WASHINGTON — A top White House advisor is calling for a primary challenger to step up to defeat West Michigan GOP Rep. Justin Amash who, as a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump.
But the tweet by White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. violated federal law that limits political activity by government employees, government ethics lawyers said.
Scavino, who also serves as a senior aide to the president, called Amash a "big liability" in a tweet posted Saturday.
Amash, who began serving his fourth House term in January, did not take long to respond to Scavino's tweet, posting "bring it on." It follows a tweet just days prior in which Amash called out the president, accusing him of succumbing to the "D.C. Establishment."
When later questioned about his criticism of the president this week, Amash called Trump a “childish bully,” equating the him to a fifth grader.
"It may allow a child to get his way, but that’s not how our government works," Amash told reporters.
Government ethics lawyers say Scavino's tweet violates federal law that limits political activity by government employees. The White House had no immediate comment. They said it didn't matter that Scavino tweeted from an account marked as "personal" and not from his official government Twitter account.
Daniel Jacobson, a White House lawyer under President Barack Obama, tweeted that White House staff "can't use an official or de facto govt Twitter acct (which this is) to call for defeat of a candidate. De facto means that if you tweet only about WH work from your account, it's an official account. Labeling 'personal' doesn't change that."
Richard Painter, who at one time was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, called attention to the description beneath the photo on the account Scavino has designated as personal. It shows Scavino in the Oval Office, and he is identified as director of social media and a senior adviser to Trump.
"This is use of official position to influence an election," Painter tweeted. "Look at the photo and description underneath. Bush WH would have fired him."
Scavino also did not immediately respond to a request for comment through Twitter.
House Freedom Caucus members helped derail a vote last month on legislation long sought by Republicans to repeal and replace the health care law known as "Obamacare." Its members argued that the bill didn't go far enough to undo the law. Some moderate Republicans also objected to the legislation, but for different reasons.
About a week after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., pulled the bill from the House floor, Trump directed his Twitter fire on fellow Republicans.
"The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!" Trump said in Thursday tweet after the House Freedom Caucus members effectively derailed the Republican-led health care bill last month.
In follow-up tweets, the president singled out three Freedom Caucus members — Reps. Raul Labrador of Idaho, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and its chair, Mark Meadows of North Carolina. He said if they "would get on board we would have both great healthcare and massive tax cuts & reform."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.