Mike Pompeo may have broken the law by using a State Department-paid trip to film his Republican National Convention speech

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U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, speaks at a news conference while U.S. President Donald Trump looks on following his second summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Tuan Mark/Getty Images
  • In an unprecedented and widely condemned move, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday during an official taxpayer-funded trip to the Middle East.
  • Ethics experts say Pompeo’s address is likely a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activities in their official positions.
  • Pompeo himself warned State Department employees in a cable last month that all Department employees – including political appointees – are barred from partisan activity “even on personal time.”
  • Pompeo, who considered a run for Senate in Kansas while serving in Trump’s administration, has a long and unusual history of engaging in political activities while serving as secretary of state.
  • Ethics groups have also condemned the president and the first lady’s use of the White House as the setting for their convention appearances this week.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will appear at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night in a video he filmed on a taxpayer-funded State Department trip to the Middle East – a move ethics experts say is a clear violation of federal laws.

A federal law, known as the Hatch Act, bars federal employees – excluding the president – from engaging in any political activities, including campaigning, in their official capacities. It’s unprecedented for a sitting secretary of state to deliver a partisan speech while conducting official state business abroad.

Pompeo will make the political case for his boss’ reelection – an unprecedented action for a sitting secretary of state – with a view of Jerusalem’s Old City in the background. The Trump administration has made its relationship with Israel and its Middle East policy central to its first term.

President Donald Trump fulfilled a campaign pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a provocative move that prompted clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces and that was condemned by some of the international community.

This comes after Pompeo reminded all American diplomats about the Hatch Act’s limits on political activity in a cable last month, and his decision to participate in the convention appears to contradict his own orders.

Pompeo’s message to State Department staff pointed out that “US citizen employees and family members may not engage in partisan political activity while posted or on [temporary duty] abroad, even on personal time,” and that “presidential and political appointees” are prohibited from “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.”

State Department officials defended Pompeo, claiming that he will appear at the convention in his personal capacity and that no taxpayer funds are being used to create his convention video. But critics pointed out that the video was filmed during a four-day state-funded trip to the Middle East for official state department business.

“This is perhaps the most egregious example of how Secretary Pompeo has used his position to help serve his own personal political goals,” Donald Sherman, the deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, told Pompeo’s home state paper The Kansas City Star.

Richard Painter, who served as an ethics adviser to President George W. Bush, told The New York Times he would file a Hatch Act complaint against Pompeo over his convention address.

“He is on a diplomatic mission and cannot legally use that to endorse the president’s political campaign,” Painter said.

Wendy Sherman, the director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Centre for Public Leadership, calledPompeo’s participation in the convention “shameful and harmful.”

Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s campaign called Pompeo’s speech an “abuse of taxpayer dollars” and said “it undermines the critical work being done by the State Department.”

On Tuesday, House Democrats announced they had opened an investigation into the legality of Pompeo’s speech.

Pompeo, who considered a run for Senate in Kansas while serving in Trump’s administration, has a long and unusual history of engaging in political activities while serving as secretary of state.

Pompeo met with several major Republican donors while travelling on government-funded official trips, The New York Times reported in May. And Pompeo and his wife, Susan, have also been widely condemned for hosting at least two dozen taxpayer-funded dinners with major fundraisers and prominent GOP politicians since 2018.

Ethics groups have also condemned the president and the first lady’s decision to use the White House as the setting for their convention appearances this week.

On Monday night, Trump appeared in multiple videos filmed inside the White House and will deliver the convention’s keynote address on Thursday from the South Lawn. Melania Trump is scheduled to speak on Tuesday night from the Rose Garden.