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Pompeo’s RNC Speech Violated His Own Ethics Guidelines for the State Department

State Department employees, including political appointees, are typically disallowed from engaging in campaign events.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on after signing an agreement in Bled, Slovenia, on August 13, 2020.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is facing the possibility of an investigation into his use of department resources for a political speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) on Tuesday night.

Pompeo, whose prerecorded remarks from Jerusalem were broadcast at the RNC, faced criticisms over using his position as head of the State Department to promote President Trump’s reelection campaign. The speech from Pompeo was recorded while he was in Israel conducting official diplomatic business.

The action by Pompeo appears to break guidelines on how State Department employees should act while in service to the country’s interests. Pompeo himself had sent out a note to department staff last month, warning against taking the very actions he performed on Tuesday.

“Presidential and political appointees and career SES (Senior Executive Service) are subject to significant restrictions on their political activity; they may not engage in any partisan political activity in concert with a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, even on personal time and outside of the federal workplace,” Pompeo wrote in a cable message to department employees in July.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, wrote in a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Tuesday, outlining demands for documents related to Pompeo’s travels and answers to questions regarding his recorded speech.

Pompeo’s speech showed “a gross disregard not only of basic ethics, but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain,” Castro wrote in his correspondence to the deputy secretary.

“This action is part of a pattern of politicization of U.S. foreign policy, for which President Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, that undermines America’s standing in the world,” Castro pointed out. “The American people deserve a full investigation.”

The lawmaker further noted Pompeo should have been aware of the ethics rules, as the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser emphasized that “Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event.”

A letter from Biegun to State Department officials in February seemed to affirm this understanding of the policy.

“As a Senate confirmed Department official, I will be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year and will not be attending any political events, to include the national conventions,” Biegun had said at the time.

The secretary of state delivered a speech on Tuesday in support of another term of office for Trump, though many of his claims were misleading and full of inaccurate assertions.

Pompeo claimed Trump had strengthened NATO, for example, when the president’s actions likely contributed to more struggles for the organization of allied nations. Pompeo also labeled the president’s policies toward North Korea as successful, in spite of that nation likely furthering its nuclear armament capabilities. And the head of the State Department also said that Trump had “held China accountable for covering up” coronavirus, even though Trump had early on praised that nation for its “transparency” on the matter.

The secretary of state’s apparent disregard for ethics rules isn’t limited to campaigning on State Department time. Last week, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) announced a lawsuit against Pompeo seeking records of him allegedly misusing department funds for his own personal use.

“Mike Pompeo appears to have used taxpayer funds for lavish ‘Madison Dinners’ that included business leaders and past donors to his campaigns,” CREW asserted in a tweet last Friday.

Other members of the White House, including the president himself, have been accused of violating ethics rules during the RNC in order to promote Trump’s candidacy for office. Many have criticized, for example, Trump’s use of the White House itself as a backdrop for his political campaign, an action that likely runs afoul of the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits the use of government resources for political purposes.

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