Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will address the Republican National Convention this week, despite just a month earlier reminding employees to “not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process,” according to a cable obtained by CNN.
Pompeo’s decision to address the RNC in pre-taped remarks from Jerusalem breaks with past precedent of secretaries of state not addressing political conventions and a long-standing protocol of not discussing domestic politics while abroad. It has drawn scrutiny and scorn from diplomats.
A State Department spokesperson and another source familiar with the situation defended the move by saying Pompeo would deliver the remarks in his personal capacity and that no taxpayer funds would be used.
However, in his July cable, Pompeo himself noted that “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.”
In an email sent in February, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun told employees he would be “be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year” and urged them to review guidance on political activities to ensure they are “above reproach,” according to an email seen by CNN.
He cited restrictions “designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan,” and said that Pompeo had “recently approved updated guidance for political activities restrictions that apply to all Department employees.”
‘Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention’
December 2019 guidance from the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser states – in bold with parts italicized – that “Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event.”
On Tuesday, Pompeo tweeted from his personal account, “President Trump has ensured the safety of America — and SECURED our many FREEDOMS, which is the cornerstone of this great nation.”
“I look forward to sharing with you how the President has delivered on that mission TONIGHT!” he wrote.
Pompeo appeared to pre-tape his speech on Monday from the rooftop of a hotel in Jerusalem. He was in the city on an official State Department trip through the Middle East and North Africa.
In his February email, Biegun noted that while “I am not active on social media, I encourage you to think about your own practices and how the guidelines provided by the Office of the Legal Adviser might apply to your social media activity. I also intend to be thoughtful in how I respond to emails from friends that have even the appearance of partisan political content.”
“I hope you will join me in carefully adhering to these restrictions designed to support our nonpartisan foreign policy,” he said in the email, which was first reported by Politico.
Pompeo’s decision to address the GOP convention, particularly from Jerusalem, rankled former and current State Department officials and foreign policy experts.
A spokesperson for Hillary Clinton noted that she did not address the 2012 Democratic National Convention while she was serving as secretary of state, despite harboring future political ambitions.
“She didn’t play a role because that’s not what SecStates do. When you’re serving in government, your job is to serve the American people, not your party’s delegates,” Nick Merrill told CNN. “Like Pompeo she was thinking of running for President, but her job as the country’s chief diplomat, and her task of protecting our national security, came first, always.”
“It is unprecedented in modern times for a Secretary of State to address a political convention,” former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns tweeted Monday. “This is not wise at a time when our chief diplomat should be focussed (sic) on restoring America’s lost global credibility.”
‘It seems completely inappropriate’
A current foreign service officer told CNN “it seems completely inappropriate for the person in the forefront of US diplomacy to be speaking out so politically.”
“It does not feel good,” they said, adding they believe foreign counterparts “will have some questions about that.”
A State Department spokesperson said Sunday that “Secretary Pompeo will address the convention in his personal capacity” and that “no State Department resources will be used.”
“Staff are not involved in preparing the remarks or in the arrangements for Secretary Pompeo’s appearance,” they said. “The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance.”
A source familiar said President Donald Trump asked Pompeo to speak and he considers it a high honor to have been asked. The President thinks it will be one of the most important speeches of the week. The speech has been cleared through Pompeo’s personal lawyers, State Department and White House lawyers, and RNC lawyers, this source said. They called it “completely lawful and completely appropriate.”
Another source told CNN that the speech is expected to run about four minutes and will highlight what the administration sees as Trump’s foreign policy accomplishments including being tough on China, delivering robust Middle East policy, strengthening NATO, and seeking out diplomacy with North Korea, said a source briefed on the convention plans. On the Middle East aspect of the speech, Pompeo will highlight moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Israel-UAE agreement last week, the source said.
Under the Hatch Act, federal employees are generally not permitted to engage in partisan political activities while on duty, in a federal room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia or using a government vehicle.
State Department guidance in the Foreign Affairs Manual goes even further, barring employees, spouses and family members from engaging in partisan politics while abroad “other than authorized activities pertaining to U.S. elections” – a longstanding provision emphasized by Pompeo in his cable.
Biegun noted in his February email, “We often talk of Hatch Act requirements, but in truth the Department has more far-reaching restrictions designed to ensure our representation overseas is not perceived as partisan.”
CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Michael Schwartz contributed to this report.