On Monday morning, President Trump used the bully pulpit of Twitter to attack the Red Hen, a small restaurant in rural Virginia that asked Press Secretary Sarah Sanders’ party to leave when they went there to dine on Friday night.
“The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” Trump tweeted. “I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
Trump has 53 million Twitter followers. His attack on the “Red Hen Restaurant” led to an unaffiliated restaurant in Washington, D.C. with the same name being flooded with abuse.
Meanwhile the social media person for the DC restaurant is pleading with the administration to at least tag the correct company to stop the deluge of garbage coming at them pic.twitter.com/gywiIepNDp
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) June 25, 2018
Trump’s tweet came two days after Sanders posted one claiming that Red Hen owner Stephanie Wilkinson’s decision to ask her party to leave “say[s] far more about her than about me.”
Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) June 23, 2018
Sanders’ tweet prompted Walter Shaub, the federal government’s former ethics czar, to explain that federal officials are prohibited from using their Twitter accounts to attack private businesses.
Sarah, I know you don’t care even a tiny little bit about the ethics rules, but using your official account for this is a clear violation of 5 CFR 2635.702(a). It’s the same as if an ATF agent pulled out his badge when a restaurant tried to throw him/her out. https://t.co/Fj6OfBAdew
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) June 23, 2018
Trump’s tweet appears to violate that same section of law, which prohibits federal officials from using their public positions for private gain.
Sanders used her official govt account to condemn a private business for personal reasons. Seeks to coerce business by using her office to get public to pressure it. Violates endorsements ban too, which has an obvious corollary for discouraging patronage. Misuse reg covers both.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) June 23, 2018
The Trump administration has already proven that they don’t particularly care about the rules, however.
In March, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) ruled that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway twice violated a federal law prohibiting federal officials from using their offices for partisan purposes while she was endorsing the candidacy of Roy Moore, a failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama who was credibly accused of child abuse. The White House responded to the OSC’s ruling not by disciplining Conway or even condemning her conduct, but with a statement expressing contempt for the idea that the rules apply to them in the first place.
— Fin Gomez (@finnygo) March 6, 2018
In an interview with The Washington Post, Wilkinson cited Trump’s moves to ban transgender people from serving in the military and his policy of separating migrant children from their parents as factors that motivated her, with support from her staff, to ask Sanders to leave.
“I’m not a huge fan of confrontation,” Wilkinson told the Post. “I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. This feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”
Trump’s attack on the Red Hen wasn’t the first time he’s used his Twitter account to go after a private business — the president has also repeatedly attacked Amazon, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, a paper whose reporting Trump doesn’t like — but it is notably ironic, given that Mar-a-Lago has been hit with 78 health code violations in recent years.