With attention understandably focused on the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crisis, the unfolding scandal at the State Department involving Secretary Mike Pompeo went almost unnoticed. That might change, thanks to the revelations in John Bolton’s new book of rampant self-dealing in the Trump administration’s foreign policy, in which Pompeo features prominently. When he first started as secretary, Pompeo promised to bring “swagger” back to the department. But more than two years into his tenure, the State Department suffers from plummeting morale and misguided leadership.
Like other officials in the administration, including the president, Pompeo seems to think he is above accountability and transparency. At Pompeo’s request, Trump fired the department’s Inspector General, Steve Linick, even though (or because) Linick was investigating Pompeo on two issues: misuse of State Department personnel for personal errands and misrepresentation of the case for approving military assistance to Saudi Arabia.
Pompeo claimed in an interview: “I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing. The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”
Pompeo, like his boss, seems ignorant of the job and function of the Inspector General. IGs serve as independent watchdogs of each department and agency, investigating and reporting on any alleged corruption and malfeasance. They are not there to swagger, or serve the goals of the department as defined by Pompeo.
Perhaps before Pompeo offers his opinion of other officials’ job descriptions, he should brush up on his own. When Trump derisively referred to the department as “the Deep State” at a March 20 coronavirus briefing with Pompeo standing right next to him, the secretary refused to defend State Department employees. He provided no backing for those at State who became embroiled in the impeachment process and even tried to keep them from cooperating with the investigation.
He lashed out at an NPR reporter, Mary Louise Kelly, who dared to ask him about his lack of support for former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and then issued an incredibly childish statement the next day questioning Kelly’s integrity and knowledge of geography (suggesting she mixed up Ukraine and Bangladesh on a map).
Pompeo traveled to his home state of Kansas three times last year – at taxpayer expense – amid speculation that he was contemplating a run for the open Senate seat there; an Office of Special Counsel investigation concluded he did not abuse his position for that travel. He has hosted “Madison Dinners” at State, again on the taxpayers’ dime, for various luminaries, Republican members of Congress, and potential future donors.
Pompeo denied that Linick’s firing was in retaliation for the IG’s investigations, since, Pompeo claimed, he did not know he was being investigated. Yet, having refused to be interviewed regarding the Saudi investigation, Pompeo responded in writing to questions from Linick’s office. That doesn’t square with Pompeo’s claim that he was unaware he was being investigated.
Linick claims to have informed, among others, Brian Bulatao, the department’s undersecretary for management and a long-time ally and former business partner of Pompeo, of the investigation into Pompeo’s alleged misuse of department employees for personal and family errands. As Politico’s Nahal Toosi put it, “…[C]urrent and former State Department officials say it beggars belief that neither Bulatao nor other aides would have mentioned such a probe to Pompeo.” That means somebody is lying.
Pompeo has never denied the accusations of using staff for personal errands, saying sarcastically, “I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. It’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.” Cute. But not a convincing defense.
In a session with reporters last week, Pompeo attacked Linick. “Steve Linick was a bad actor in the inspector general office here. He didn’t take on the mission of the State Department to make us better,” Pompeo said. “That’s what inspector generals are supposed to do; they work for the agency head – that’s me – and they are supposed to deliver and help make that organization better. It’s not what Mr. Linick did.” Pompeo again demonstrates he does not understand the role of the IG; he thinks he is above any scrutiny.
Pompeo and his team are now asking for an investigation of Linick over alleged leaks involving an IG investigation last year into inappropriate personnel matters in the Office of Policy Planning. According to CNN, Linick and his office had been cleared of any involvement in the leaks.
Meanwhile, Trump appointed Stephen Akard to be acting inspector general at the same time Akard is retaining his position as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions. How an inspector general can be a neutral investigator while also in a leadership position subject to his own investigations is baffling, but Pompeo seems unbothered by this clearly inappropriate double duty.
In 2014, Pompeo was one of the House leaders calling for accountability during the investigation of the attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Benghazi. Yet accountability apparently does not apply to him.
Surrounded by mounting controversy and scandal, Pompeo, with his arrogant and bullying behavior, sets a terrible example as the nation’s top diplomat. If he wants to be “additive” to the State Department, he should start by resigning.