The tenants of New York City public housing who were featured in a video during the Republican National Convention criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio said they were not told about how the video was going to be used, reports the New York Times. Three of the four people who appear in the video—Claudia Perez, Carmen Quiñones and Manny Martinez—say they were misled and had no idea their words were going to be used to support President Donald Trump. “I am not a Trump supporter,” Perez said. “I am not a supporter of his racist policies on immigration. I am a first-generation Honduran. It was my people he was sending back.”
Their participation in the video began with a call from Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump ally who now oversees federal housing programs in New York. Patton told a leader of a tenants’ group that she wanted to speak to people about poor conditions in public housing buildings. Shortly thereafter, four tenants were assembled and started to talk. They were interviewed for more than four hours by Patton. Three of the four tenants say they had no idea that their words would appear so prominently in a video aired Thursday night at the RNC. “This was not an endorsement of Trump,” Martinez said. The fourth tenant said she knew the purpose of the video and said she was a Trump supporter.
The tenants were not the only people who were surprised to play a starring role in the Republican National Convention. Two of the five new citizens featured in a naturalization ceremony video at the White House said they didn’t know the footage would be shown at the convention.
Beyond the way in which the tenants said they were misled about the purpose of the video, the direct role played by Patton raised fresh questions about the way officials in the Trump administration are using their power as government officials to help the president’s reelection efforts. As the head of the New York office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Patton isn’t allowed to use her government position for partisan political purposes. But this was hardly the only instance of the White House violating normal divisions between government and campaigning. The video was aired on the same night as Trump was highly criticized for using the White House as a backdrop for the convention.
The Trump administration pushed back, saying the tenants knew what the video was about and it had been cleared for any potential violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from using their position for partisan activities. “All interview subjects were fully aware of the purpose of the interviews,” Tim Murtagh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said. “Lynne Patton was acting in her own personal capacity.” Patton said the video had been cleared of Hatch Act violations by the White House and wrote a series of tweets insisting she showed all the tenants the video before it aired. In a Facebook post, Patton says “each resident knew about, and agreed to appear on, the RNC platform.”
This isn’t the first time Patton, who planned Eric Trump’s wedding, has been warned about mixing her government position with partisan politics. Last year, the Office of Special Counsel warned Patton about Hatch Act violations, in part due to her activity on social media activity. In May of last year, Patton posted on Facebook that “I honestly don’t care anymore” if a tweet she sent violated the Hatch Act.