President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign on Monday quietly scrapped and replaced an ad celebrating his first 100 days in office over what might have been a violation of federal election law.
The 30-second commercial included video of Trump shaking hands with Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser. McMaster was wearing his Army uniform in the clip, which may have violated Defense Department code blocking active-duty service members from participating in any political advocacy while in uniform, the Daily Beast first reported.
There does seem to be some confusion, though, over the legality of McMaster’s spot in the ad. An unnamed “senior defense official” told the Daily Beast that because the clip was a recording of an official meeting, it “is not contrary to law and it does not violate any rules in policy.”
But Federal Election Commission general counsel Larry Noble, who also runs the Campaign Legal Center, said the original version of the “100 Days” ad “seems to violate [the] intent of military policy against members engaging in partisan political activity.”
And Brendan Fischer, the CLC’s director of federal programs, noted that Pentagon rules “appear to prohibit McMaster from appearing in Trump’s campaign ad [in uniform], assuming he is still on active duty.”
Pentagon guidance from 2005 stated that wearing a uniform is prohibited “during or in connection with furthering political activities, private employment, or commercial interests.” Then in a 2008 memo, active-duty officers were further instructed to “refrain from participating in any political activity while in military uniform.”
While the ad, which was launched by the president’s re-election campaign, does not explicitly urge viewers to vote for Trump, he is already a declared 2020 candidate (he filed for re-election on Inauguration Day). By doing that, Trump subjected his promotional materials to FEC regulations that might not be an issue otherwise.
Trump marked his first 100 days in the Oval Office by skipping the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and holding a campaign-style rally Saturday night in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“A large group of Hollywood actors and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation’s capital right now,” the president joked about the journalists gathered in Washington, D.C. “I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you — and with a much, much larger crowd and much better people.”
You can watch the updated ad below.