Bronx, NY—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today announced that the Committee has obtained two internal State Department documents showing clearly that Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming speech to the Republican National Convention (RNC) will violate legal restrictions on political activities, according to a longstanding interpretation by State Department lawyers that Mr. Pompeo himself reiterated to Department employees just last month.
A December 2019 memorandum from the State Department Office of the Legal Adviser, which reportedly remained posted on the Department’s internal ethics website Sunday night, even after the announcement of Secretary Pompeo’s upcoming speech to the RNC, states unequivocally that political appointees such as Secretary Pompeo are prohibited from “[e]ngag[ing] in political activity in concert with a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group.” The memo from the Office of the Legal Adviser goes on to say that “Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event” (emphasis in original). Just last month, in a cable to every State Department office and diplomatic post that went out with his own signature, Secretary Pompeo reiterated this guidance to all Department personnel.
Secretary Pompeo’s decision to use this week’s taxpayer-funded official diplomatic trip as a venue for his RNC speech also violates decades-old rules in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, which prohibit not just State Department employees, but also their spouses or family members from “engag[ing] in partisan political activities abroad.”
“I take a back seat to no one in my support for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. I support any Secretary of State visiting Israel and will stand with any administration—Republican or Democratic—seeking to bolster the ties between our two countries and deepen the friendship between our peoples. But, once again, the rules go out the window for Secretary Pompeo when they get in the way of serving his political interests and Donald Trump. Mr. Pompeo should show real respect for American law, diplomacy, and diplomats, and should follow his own guidance, cancel the speech, and watch the RNC from his hotel room after the workday is done,” said Chairman Engel.
A December 3, 2019 memorandum from the Office of the Legal Adviser to the Department’s presidential and political appointees specifically details a number of prohibited activities. The list of prohibitions makes clear that Secretary Pompeo’s participation in a political party convention clearly runs afoul of guidance that applies even to the Department’s most senior, Senate-confirmed officials, as shown in the following excerpts from the memorandum (all emphases in the original):
Prohibited Political Activities
You may not: […]
Engage in political activity in concert with a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group. This restriction covers a range of activities, such as:
- Endorsement, solicitation of votes, dissemination of campaign literature or online campaign content
- Providing policy guidance to a candidate, party, or partisan group
- Hold any position in a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, or seek such a position
- Serve as a delegate, alternate, or proxy to a political party convention. Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event
- Work at the polls on behalf of a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group by acting as a checker, challenger, or watcher, or in a similar partisan position
- Drive voters in a private vehicle to polling places for a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group
- Speak for or against a partisan candidate, political party, or partisan political group at a convention, rally, or similar gathering sponsored by such entities, or at any other gathering if the address is given in concert with such entities
- Take any other active role in the political campaign of a partisan candidate or a candidate for political party office
On July 24, 2020, Secretary Pompeo sent a cable to all State Department personnel in the United States and around the world, referring specifically to the December memorandum, and stating, “It is important that the Department’s employees do not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process, and that they adhere to the Hatch Act and Department policies in their own political activities.”
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