White House Staff Could Be in Trouble if They Help Trump With Fake News Awards, Says Former WH Lawyer

Workers last month cut branches from a White House magnolia tree planted by President Andrew Jackson, after it was determined the tree had become weak due to age and decay. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

On Sunday, a former White House ethics lawyer warned West Wing staff that if they help the president with the "fake news" awards he has promised to hand out, they could be breaking the law.

President Donald Trump said he still plans to go ahead with the awards, which he first suggested in November and promised on Twitter to hand out Monday. However, he tweeted late Sunday that he would push back the announcement of winners to January 17.

"WARNING to White House staff: the president may be exempt from the rules at 5 CFR § 2635.701 et seq. on misuse of position BUT YOU ARE NOT," tweeted Norm Eisen, who served as White House special counsel for ethics and government reform in the Obama administration.

In his message, Eisen told White House staff that if they help the president deliver the awards they could risk violating provisions of the law that forbid the use of government time and money to harm some members of the media and help others.

Eisen is chair of the board of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that has attempted to bring a series of lawsuits against the Trump administration for ethics violations over the past year.

"If any [White House] staffers work on this or post it on the WH website, it will be a violation of the Standards of Conduct," wrote Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, in a supporting tweet directed at the Trump administration's press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on Sunday.

"Beware of laws on using federal appropriations too, if there are any visuals, certificates, handouts, or trophies," Shaub added.

Related: Trump's '2017 King of Fake News' poll being promoted by GOP

Last month, White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino Jr.‏ said he has "nothing to do with" the awards, which he noted are being run by Trump's 2020 campaign.

Dear @jason_kint,

I actually just learned about it from your tweet, and have nothing to do with it — it’s from a campaign...

So carry on with your HATE and FAKE NEWS, as you work at “advancing the future of trusted content and media strategy” over at @DCNorg. LOL😂 https://t.co/xKyNsnCslr

— Dan Scavino🇺🇸🦅 (@DanScavino) December 29, 2017

"The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, January 17th, rather than this coming Monday," Trump tweeted Sunday. "The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!"

Details have not been released about how Trump will deliver the awards or whether any members of the White House are involved in coordinating or assisting the president with the project.

The Republican National Committee has been promoting an online poll for the awards after Trump tweeted about the idea of creating a trophy for "the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me)" in late November.

At the time, Trump said the awards would exclude the Fox News network.

We should have a contest as to which of the Networks, plus CNN and not including Fox, is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite President (me). They are all bad. Winner to receive the FAKE NEWS TROPHY!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2017

The online poll run by the GOP features stories from ABC News, CNN and Time magazine, each of which has been corrected.

Those who respond to the poll are asked to rank each of the three media stories as "fake," "faker" or "fakest" news.

Days after Trump's tweet suggesting the awards, polling company Rasmussen Reports found that 40 percent of Americans thought the top award should go to Fox News. CNN came in second, with 25 percent of respondents, and MSNBC followed with 9 percent.