Diplomats dismayed as Pompeo prepares to address GOP convention from Jerusalem

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WASHINGTON – Diplomats who are prohibited by law from mixing work and politics say they are dismayed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to speak at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, breaking with long-standing traditions of isolating politics US foreign partisan battles Home.

It would be problematic enough, current and former U.S. diplomats have said, if Pompeo just showed up at the convention to speak. But the fact that Pompeo uses a stop in Jerusalem on an official trip abroad as the location of his recorded speech to his fellow Republicans raises even more troubling questions about the message he is sending to other countries and the fact that US taxpayers foot the bill, they said. .

“All of this destroys the Hatch Act,” said a current US diplomat, referring to federal law that prohibits government employees from engaging in political activity at work or in their official capacity.

Pompeo’s speech in the service of President Donald Trump’s re-election appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of three legal notes issued by the State Department’s legal counsel.

One of the legal memos, intended to guide political appointments, says explicitly in bold letters that “Presidential appointments confirmed by the Senate may not even attend a political party convention.” “

The ban on politicking, which is imposed on State Department employees during regular ethics briefings, was deemed so critical that Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said in an email to to employees in February that he even avoided talking about politics by answering “friends’ emails.” ”

“In my case, as a Department official confirmed by the Senate, I will be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year and I will not participate in any political events, including national conventions,” Biegun wrote in a letter reported more early by Politico. and obtained by NBC News.

The State Department insists Pompeo is approaching the convention in his personal capacity, and the Republican National Committee has said “everything” is paid for by the committee and the Trump campaign. A spokeswoman said State Department staff were not involved in drafting the remarks or organizing her speech, adding that “the State Department will not bear any costs in connection with this appearance.” .

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But four current and former high-ranking diplomats have questioned that claim given the logistics required to support the secretary, especially abroad. The plane that took Pompeo to Israel, to begin with, is a US government plane.

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A State Department official with knowledge of the secretary’s usual travel arrangements said even a brief detour during Pompeo’s visit to Israel to record a convention speech would involve motorcade drivers, local embassy workers. United States and Washington roving personnel who accompany the secretary at all times, as well as his important security apparatus, which is fully paid for by taxpayers.

“Employees supporting the secretary’s trip to Israel who have sworn in to the US Constitution, not a political party, are also being forced to support these partisan activities at taxpayer expense,” the State Department official said. “It is shockingly anti-American for a sitting secretary of state to participate in a political convention. “

The official and others still working for the government spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. Their comments were echoed by former U.S. diplomats who said the dismay within the diplomatic community was palpable.

“People are extremely upset about this. It really is a bridge too far, ”said former Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who spent 35 years in the Foreign Service. “Pompeo clearly ensures that the State Department is politicized by using its position to carry out what is essentially a partisan mission. “

The State Department declined to answer specific questions about Pompeo’s speech, including where he was recording it. But Israeli media reported that he was seen on Monday with a film crew on the roof of the King David, Jerusalem’s famous hotel that overlooks the Old City.

This raised the possibility of Pompeo appearing at the convention with some of Judaism and Christianity’s most important sites as a backdrop, sending a potentially powerful visual signal to evangelical voters. In his remarks, Pompeo is expected to praise the Trump administration’s decidedly pro-Israel record, which includes recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Golan Heights as Israeli territory while allowing relations with the Palestinians to end. .

Former Ambassador Nicholas Burns, who served in the administrations of Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, said it was particularly egregious that Pompeo was breaking the tradition that domestic politics stop at the water’s edge.

“We should want to speak with one voice,” Burns said. “To give the impression that one side is more favorable to Israel than the other is not smart. It is not good for the Israelis to have this politicized relationship. “

No other secretary of state in recent history has even attended his party conventions. Although a few secretaries attended the meeting in the 1970s and 1980s, historians have not been able to cite any example of a secretary speaking at an appointing convention.

In 2016, as Trump was running for his first term, then Secretary of State John Kerry was keen to get involved in the Democratic National Convention to strengthen his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, and he said so privately, people familiar with the subject told me. In particular, Kerry wanted to draw attention to concerns about a Trump presidency that U.S. diplomats were hearing from other countries.

But Kerry’s staff told him he couldn’t get involved in the 2016 politics at all. A former Kerry aide said staff never concluded it was illegal to do so, but considered this to violate a long-standing standard for secretaries. There were also concerns about the use of State Department funds for purposes unrelated to foreign policy, the aide said.

Even when this happened without an invitation, such as when a student asked Kerry about Trump during a visit to Oxford University, he objected.

“I am not allowed under our law to enter, in fact fully, into the middle of the countryside,” Kerry said in May 2016.

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Said Pompeo made fun of a sacred American office, accusing the secretary of violating both Hatch Law and State Department policy.

“No secretary of state should ever use a foreign nation as political support for partisan gain,” he said.

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