- As Delivered –

WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today joined fellow lawmakers for the Democratic Forum titled “Not Who We Are: An Examination of Trump’s Un-American Muslim and Refugee Ban.”  A transcript of his remarks and question-and-answer session with former Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman follows.

Rep. ENGEL: “I wanted to ask Mr. Countryman—as the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve known you for many years.  You’ve had a distinguished career as a diplomat you advanced U.S. interests all over the world.

On Tuesday, I and every Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to the President to remind him of the importance of the Dissent Channel.  This is the way the State Department arrives at good policy.

“The other day, when news of American diplomats  dissenting from the travel ban broke, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that our diplomats should, and I quote him, ‘get with the program or they should go.’

“Now, we all know that the Dissent Channel is not only a revered institution at the State Department—diplomats are actually given awards for dissenting—but that’s, that it’s actually protected by law.

“So I just would like you to comment on that because what we don’t want is we don’t want people working, helping with our foreign policy afraid to show dissent when they are guaranteed by law to have that channel to dissent.”

Mr. COUNTRYMAN: “Thank you sir, I appreciate the question and I appreciate the many years we’ve had the opportunity to discuss such issues.

“First, I very much appreciate the action that you and other members have taken to remind the President and the new Secretary of State of this 45-year-long tradition of providing for private dissent messages. This is not just blowing off steam. This is a means to have the kind of deliberation among professionals that can improve our foreign policy and make America safer.

“As I said, every employee of the State Department knows they have a primary responsibility to protect the safety and security of Americans citizens and to follow the orders in the new Administration. I have served six different presidents, both Republicans and Democratic, with the same loyalty and that is what typifies Foreign Service discipline. So it is absolutely crucial, and I think maybe the White House and certainly Secretary Tillerson have heard the message on this.

“Just one more point, it’s not just about formulation of foreign policy.  What concerns me greatly, is that a major step like this—done without preparing the groundwork for not only our diplomats, but our military, our experts in the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, without giving the ability in advance to prepare the explanation and prepare the implementation—amounts to foreign policy malpractice.  But I thank you for your support.”

Rep. ENGEL: “Thank you and I want to thank all the panelist, especially my friend Dr. Khan, Mr. Khan, thank you all for your courage.”