President Donald Trump’s recent firing of State Department inspector general Steve Linick at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s request has set off a cascade of damning stories about the secretary of state’s behavior in office. And the news just keeps getting worse. Days after NBC News reported Pompeo’s frequent taxpayer-funded “Madison” dinners, which appear to be more of a political opportunity for the secretary’s presidential ambitions than official diplomatic affairs, the New York Times reports Pompeo has done even more politicking under the guise of official business. Per the Times, Pompeo has on multiple occasions used his official State trips to visit conservative donors and politicians—without putting them on his public schedule or informing reporters of the trips.
Pompeo’s reported secret visits included a dinner meeting with Republican donors while in London for a NATO meeting, and a visit with Republican billionaire Charles Koch aboard a government aircraft while on an official trip to Kansas. On an official visit to Florida in January, the secretary of state also made a mysterious detour to the Villages, a retirement community chock-full of Republican donors. The Tampa Bay Times reported in February that based on the address Pompeo visited, he was likely visiting GOP donor Mark Morse, whose family developed the Villages and has donated more than $100,000 to Republicans since January 2019. The secretary and former CIA director has also made trips to major gatherings of business leaders—which were branded as official business but prime for political schmoozing—including visiting the annual Bilderberg Meeting in Switzerland last year and the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in 2017 and 2019. (These visits are all on top of Pompeo’s repeated trips to Kansas while he was considering running for Senate there, which were so frequent that the Kansas City Star issued an op-ed proclaiming, “Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job.”)
The secretary and his allies contend that these trips were no more than the kind of official face-to-face time the secretary of state needs to put in with top figures. “What’s he supposed to do—not reach out and have social interaction with business leaders because his name has been associated with the presidential race? It’s part of the job,” Alan Cobb, who heads the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and is longtime friend of Pompeo’s, told the Times. “And the fact is, most wealthy business leaders are political donors—good luck finding one who is not.” But much like his donor-heavy dinners—the guest lists of which were all emailed to wife Susan Pompeo, potentially to have on-hand for a 2024 presidential bid—the trips also reek of Pompeo using his office for political gain in violation of the Hatch Act. “It’s just so extreme,” a former State Department official told my colleague Abigail Tracy after news of Pompeo’s dinners broke. “He’s using the institution to clearly advance his own personal interests.”
And Pompeo’s apparent political opportunism is far from the only scandal to come out about the secretary of state in recent days. Linick’s firing exposed multiple misdeeds that the I.G. may have been dismissed over investigating Pompeo for, including an $8 billion arms sale to the Persian Gulf, which Pompeo issued an emergency waiver for that circumvented Congressional approval. After news of the I.G.'s potential investigation into the deal broke, Politico reported that Pompeo went against the advice of high-level State officials to approve the deal, which ultimately infuriated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. When Pompeo went ahead with the deal despite the widespread opposition, CNN reported Thursday that the secretary of state pushed State officials to come up with a reason to justify the emergency declaration only after the fact, “stunning career diplomats.” “They seemed to have a game plan and it had to be justified,” a State Department official told CNN. “The attitude was very Trumpian.”
Yet another Pompeo controversy involves the secretary of state directing State officials to perform household tasks for him and his wife, like washing dishes or walking his dog. That issue, too, has only gained steam in recent days, embroiling Susan Pompeo, whom the Times reports has “played an unusually active role” in Pompeo’s State business. “She has this quasi-official role, where my friends are called to meetings she is leading at the department,” former career diplomat Brett Bruen, who served as the director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, told the Times. “They know that’s not supposed to happen, because she isn’t in their chain of command. But what can they do?” It was previously reported that Mrs. Pompeo has asked State officials to pick up takeout food, pick up their dog from the groomers, and tend to her needs while overseas. But Slate reported Thursday that her requests have extended even further, with security officials being ordered to pick up Susan Pompeo from the airport when she visited her mother in Louisiana. They were then reportedly told to pack up her mother’s house and “cart away boxes” when her mother moved into a Kansas retirement home.
Beyond the Pompeos’ mounting scandals amid Linick’s firing, even the now-former I.G.’s successor has already come under scrutiny days into the job. Stephen Akard assumed the I.G. job Monday—despite the law requiring that a president give Congress 30 days notice before firing an inspector general—but announced he would keep his job leading the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions. That creates an apparent conflict of interest, given that as both a State official and its watchdog, Akard will now be responsible for overseeing himself. “Embedding a political ally to serve as I.G. who is still working in the very agency they are supposed to oversee is very problematic and an affront to that independence,” Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told the Washington Post. “I have trouble seeing how Ambassador Akard could fulfill those duties effectively given the circumstances and without stepping down from his current role.”
Pompeo’s apparent misbehavior in office isn’t really anything new, with State officials and the diplomatic community long viewing the secretary as one who cares more for keeping Trump happy and protecting himself than doing his job effectively. “There’s a kind of resigned disgust that this is what it’s come to: the secretary of state doesn’t run foreign policy—or even really understand it all that well—but simply seeks to extend Trump’s domestic ambitions outside U.S. borders for his audience of one,” a former senior U.S. official told Tracy in May about Pompeo’s attacks on China amid the coronavirus. “People haven’t wanted to believe this, but it seems increasingly apparent.” But as Tracy notes, as the scandals make it even more obvious that Pompeo is putting his own political ambitions at the forefront, he may soon find himself on the wrong side of a president who wants his people to act only in slavish devotion to him. While Pompeo may be using his office to get a boost on the political ladder, should the avalanche of controversies run him out of a job—and a political ally in Trump—he’ll ultimately have even further to climb.
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