|The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Illustration photo on CNN)|
Rep. Joaquin Castro, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said in a statement Tuesday that the "American people deserve a full investigation."
The decision to speak to the political convention in prerecorded remarks from Jerusalem breaks with longstanding precedent of sitting secretaries of state avoiding partisan politics, particularly while abroad, and appears to violate guidance on political activities that Pompeo himself emphasized in a cable to diplomats just last month. It has rankled current and past State Department officials, reported CNN.
'Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention'
In a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Tuesday, Castro noted, "It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting Secretary of State to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties. It appears that it may also be illegal."
President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy has had a positive benefit around the world, from holding China accountable for its role in the coronavirus pandemic to defeating the Islamic State, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Tuesday during the second day of the Republican National Convention.
The secretary of State, who delivered his speech against the backdrop of Jerusalem‘s Old City, highlighted several of Trump’s notable efforts, including strengthening NATO, providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike and defeating the Islamic State.
The congressional probe, announced Tuesday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, is likely to further deepen the hostility between Pompeo and leading Democrats. It could also add to tensions inside the State Department, where many employees are aghast at Pompeo’s choice to participate in the convention.
Pompeo’s pre-recorded appearance at the partly virtual convention is a break with decades of norms in which the chief U.S. diplomat has avoided participating in explicitly partisan events. The argument for avoiding such gatherings has been that the United States needs to speak with one voice overseas, and that the secretary of State needs to be seen as representing the country, not a political party.
Pompeo made use of some of Trump's trademark sayings in the speech, including calling the coronavirus the "China virus."
"The president has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world and he will not rest until justice is done," Pompeo said.
“The Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo have shown a gross disregard not only of basic ethics, but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain. Congress has a responsibility to stand up for the rule of law and hold them accountable for this corrupt behavior,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chairman of the oversight subcommittee, in a statement.
|House Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Joaquin Castro. Photo AP|
Castro informed the State Department of his panel’s investigation in a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. News of the probe was first reported by the Daily Beast.
In February, Biegun wrote an email to department staffers urging them to look at a set of updated legal memos, approved by Pompeo, that had detailed guidelines on if and when State Department employees could engage in partisan activities, the politico said.
|U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Prime Minister of Czech Republic Andrej Babis address the media during a press conference as part of a meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, on Aug. 12, 2020. Photo AP|
John Bellinger, the top State Department lawyer under former Republican Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said the agency had long barred senior political appointees from partisan activity, including attending party conventions, even if they might be permitted under the 1939 Hatch Act limiting the political activities of federal employees.
Pompeo’s address also appeared to violate his own instructions restating the department’s prohibition on political activities - which applies to official and private time - sent to personnel in a July 24 cable reviewed on Monday by Reuters.
In his letter to Biegun, Castro wrote that it was “readily apparent” from documents in his panel’s possession that Pompeo’s appearance may violate the Hatch Act, federal regulations implementing that law and federal rules.
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