Just 14 words at Trump's Arizona rally may have caused Ben Carson to violate an ethics law

Just 14 words may have caused Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to violate an ethics law at President Donald Trump's Tuesday-night rally in Phoenix.

As Carson was set to take the stage at the rally, an announcer introduced him with, "the secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson."

That's all it took for a possible Hatch Act violation.

RELATED: Images from Trump's rally in Arizona

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President Trump holds campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona
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President Trump holds campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump cheer before his arrival at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump listens to the cheering crowd at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 22: An inflatable depiction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and President Donald Trump face protesters face the Phoenix Convention Center as protesters demonstrate against President Donald Trump during his rally at the convention center on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump cheer him at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Members of the John Brown Gun Club sit with their guns outside of a campaign rally in Phoenix Arizona, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up to a crowd of supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: A protester holds a painting depicting President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin outside the Phoenix Convention Center where a rally by Trump was being held on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. An earlier statement by the president that he was considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio,, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order in a case involving racial profiling, has angered Latinos and immigrant rights advocates. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: A supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a sign as the president speaks to a crowd at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center during a rally on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. An earlier statement by the president that he was considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio,, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order in a case involving racial profiling, has angered Latinos and immigrant rights advocates. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
A supporter watches demonstrators gather outside the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump will be speaking at a 'Make America Great Again' rally on August 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Laura Segall (Photo credit should read LAURA SEGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 22: Protesters chant and wave signs across the street from the Phoenix Convention Center as President Donald Trump holds a rally at the convention center on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Demonstrators and supporters gather outside the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump will be speaking at a 'Make America Great Again' rally on August 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Laura Segall (Photo credit should read LAURA SEGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
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The 1939 law prevents government employees — such as cabinet secretaries— from using their position to advance or promote any political party or candidate. Its purpose is to ensure "federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation. ," according to the Office of Special Counsel's website.

While Carson did not address his current job while speaking at the rally, his introduction may have been enough to trigger a violation. Carson was presented at the event in his official role and did not clarify that he was speaking in an unofficial capacity. Compounding the incident is the fact that Trump, although he is more than three years away from a possible reelection, has already declared his 2020 candidacy. The Tuesday rally was billed as a campaign event.

Responding to a Washington Post report on the episode, a Housing and Urban Development spokesman said the department does not "believe there was a Hatch Act violation."

RELATED: Ben Carson through the years

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Ben Carson through the years
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Ben Carson through the years
BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 12: (JAPAN OUT) (VIDEO CAPTURE) In this image from video Dr. Ben Carson talks about his life and education August 12, 2001 in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Carson was profiled for a CNN program called 'America's Best: Science and Medicine,' for his preeminence in the field of neurosurgery. (Photo by CNN via Getty Images)
Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, Ben Carson, Ralph Abernathy and Levy Watkins at Johns Hopkins University during a celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr, Baltimore, Maryland, 1980. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Darius Rucker, Candy Carson and Dr. Ben Carson M.D., president and co-founder of Carson Scholars Fund (Photo by Louis Myrie/WireImage)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 5: Dr. Ben Carson is interviewed during a live streaming Web-A-Thon with Wake Up America September 5, 2014 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who would run in the 2016 Presidential campaign as a conservative for the Tea Party. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 5: Dr. Ben Carson speaks as the keynote speaker at the Wake Up America gala Event September 5, 2014 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who would run in the 2016 Presidential campaign as a conservative for the Tea Party. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 5: Dr. Ben Carson (C) chats with guests after a live streaming Web-A-Thon with Wake Up America September 5, 2014 at the Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Carson is a retired neurosurgeon who would run in the 2016 Presidential campaign as a conservative for the Tea Party. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty Images)
US conservative Ben Carson is surrounded by supporters as he waits to be interviewed at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington,DC on February 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon, addresses the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 26, 2015 in National Harbor, Maryland. Carson is the author of 'One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save Americas Future' and 'America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great'. Conservative activists attended the annual political conference to discuss their agenda. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US conservative Ben Carson addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, DC on February 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 08: Ben Carson attends the National Action Network (NAN) national convention at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on April 8, 2015 in New York City. The network, founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991 is hosting various politicians, organizers and religious leaders to talk about the nation's most pressing issues. The conservative Carson is widely rumored to be considering a GOP presidential run in 2016. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - MAY 4: Republican Dr. Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, speaks as he officially announces his candidacy for President of the United States at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts May 4, 2015 in Detroit, Michigan. Carson was scheduled to travel today to Iowa, but changed his plans when his mother became critically ill. He now will be traveling to Dallas instead to be with his mother Sonya. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
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The spokesman said Carson "did not hear his name before he was cued to go on."

"Dr. Carson’s travel and lodging were not paid for by the Department," HUD spokesman Raffi Williams said in an email to the Post. "Dr. Carson was there in his personal capacity. Additionally, he did not discuss HUD during his speech. We are unaware of what instructions, if any, were provided to the announcer. All other references during the event refer to him as Dr. Carson. In this instance he did not hear his name before he was cued to go on. We are consulting with our ethics office on the matter to ensure it doesn't occur again."

Ian Bassin, an associate White House counsel under President Barack Obama whose portfolio included Hatch Act compliance, said the incident was an unequivocal violation.

"The Hatch Act is complex, but some parts are simple: if you're at a campaign rally, you can't use your title," he tweeted.

But when asked by a fellow Twitter user about how enforcement of the Hatch Act works, Bassin said, "Not well."

"OSC investigates and then makes findings and sends them to POTUS who then decides whether to impose penalty," he tweeted.

Carson wouldn't the first administration official to have been found in violation of the Hatch Act. In early June, the Office of Special Counsel issued a warning to White House social media director Dan Scavino for having in April advocated on Twitter for the electoral defeat of Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

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