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Diplomats Angered by Pompeo's RNC Speech from Jerusalem, House to Investigate

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Diplomats Angered by Pompeo's RNC Speech from Jerusalem, House to Investigate

2020-08-26 21:10:56

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Mike Pompeo (Image source: Screenshot)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unprecedented speech to the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night when he spoke in a recorded message while on a trip to Jerusalem. Diplomats were upset by it, and House Democrats are launching an investigation.

The speech was videotaped the night before from the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. He spoke about the Trump administration's foreign policy: leaving the Iran nuclear deal and support for a peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates this month.

"The primary constitutional function of the national government is ensuring your family — and mine — are safe and enjoy the freedom to live, work, learn, and worship as they choose," said Pompeo. "Delivering on this duty to keep us safe and our freedoms intact, this president has led bold initiatives in nearly every corner of the world."

His decision to speak at the convention was in a personal capacity and didn't involve government resources, according to the State Department. Nonetheless, it was upsetting to U.S. diplomats.

"You can argue that U.S. government resources are not being used," said a former diplomat. "But is he not speaking as secretary of state? Is he speaking as Joe Blow? I don't think so."

A former senior official referred to the decision to deliver a convention speech from Jerusalem as "very tacky."

While some prior secretaries of state attended their party's conventions, no sitting secretary has made a speech at a party convention.

"As secretary of state, I am obligated not to participate in any way, shape, fashion, or form in parochial, political debates. I have to take no sides in the matter," said Colin Powell in 2004 when he didn't attend the Republican convention when George W. Bush was president. Now out of office, last week he spoke at the Democratic convention to support former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential nomination.

This informal policy goes back to after World War II when Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said "politics stops at the water's edge."

The decision for Pompeo to deliver a speech in Jerusalem was undoubtedly to highlight the work done to repair relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. In the past, as an evangelical Christian, Pompeo, when being interviewed for Christian Broadcasting Network, made a comparison between Trump and biblical character Esther.

The Trump administration has supported Israel throughout Trump's time in office. It moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a rarity, because of Jerusalem's possible future negotiations with the Palestinians.

The president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, Ronald Neumann, explained Pompeo is trying to show the administration's foreign policy successes before the election. "I see this as a continuation and a piece of how domestic politics have entered into foreign policy," he said. "It's a big step, but it's not out of nowhere."

Just last December, the State Department updated its policies of mixing politics and diplomacy. An email from Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun in February said that the updated guidance was more restrictive than what it's required to be. He added that it applied to all employees. Pompeo signed off in the updated restrictions.

"In my case, as a Senate-confirmed Department official, I will be sitting on the sidelines of the political process this year and will not be attending any political events, to include the national conventions," he said in the memo.

Nancy McEldowney, the former dean of the Foreign Service Institute, where new diplomats are trained, said Pompeo had crossed the line of "precedent, propriety, and ethics." She referred to it as a "blatant attempt to use American diplomacy to support Trump's campaign."

"As we've seen in numerous cases and most acutely in Ukraine, Secretary Pompeo will stoop to almost any low to satisfy Trump's endless need for praise and sycophancy," she said.

"American diplomats put their lives on the line every single day in support of our diplomacy and national security. When Pompeo violates the ethical normals and nonpartisan standards of his office, he fails the people who work under him."

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said Pompeo participating in the convention was "a potential violation of federal regulations, U.S. State Department policy, and the Hatch Act."

"It's absolutely unacceptable that a sitting U.S. Secretary of State, America's top diplomat, would use official taxpayer-funded business to participate in a political party convention, particularly after the State Department published guidance that explicitly prohibits such activity," said Castro in a latter to Biegun, noting that a panel would be looking into the matter.

He gave Biegun a September 1 deadline to submit answers in writing whether any State Department resources were used in Pompeo's remarks. He applied a September 10 deadline to produce related documents and receipts. 

He also asked whether Pompeo's speech brought concern from Israeli officials. McClatchy reported that at least two officials expressed concern about Pompeo giving a convention speech from Jerusalem. They believed it could contribute to a further political divide over Israel in the U.S.

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