by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Tim Alberta reports for National Review Online that a proposal to unveil key prospective Cabinet-level appointees during the Republican National Convention could generate legal problems for Donald Trump.
Trump, who is currently vetting vice-presidential candidates, has already said he will announce his running mate at the convention in mid-July. But sources say the presumptive GOP nominee has also quietly begun reaching out to potential cabinet secretaries, with the possible aim of introducing his future appointments to key administration posts — including Attorney General, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and Treasury Secretary — at the convention.
There’s just one problem: It might be illegal.
Republican election-law experts have long been torn over the question of whether it is permissible for a presidential candidate to publicly name individuals he intends to appoint to government positions before winning the election. Announcing a selection for the role of vice president is protected, they agree, by Article II of the Constitution. But anything beyond that could run afoul of Title 18, Chapter 29, Section 599 of the U.S. Code, which under the sub-heading “Promise of appointment by candidate” says the following:
Whoever, being a candidate, directly or indirectly promises or pledges the appointment, or the use of his influence or support for the appointment of any person to any public or private position or employment, for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
It’s the phrase, “for the purpose of procuring support in his candidacy,” that has triggered uncertainty among election-law attorneys. Is it illegal to announce an appointment to gain support from the appointee? Is it illegal to do so to gain support from the public? Both? Neither?