When you arrange the firing of the independent inspector general of your department, you should expect to have a bad week. Ever since State Department IG Steve Linick was suddenly ousted late Friday, Mike Pompeo has been battered with charges of ethical and professional misbehavior that Linick might have been sniffing out.
First it was Pompeo using state department staffers to walk his dog and get his dry cleaning. Then came news that Pompeo refused to cooperate with a Linick probe into whether the Trump administration ginned up a fake “emergency” to circumvent a congressional ban on arms sales to the Saudis.
Today’s Pompeo scandal: According to NBC News, he and his wife Susan Pompeo held dozens of fancy private dinners at taxpayer expense, using official rooms at the State Department, and mostly invited conservative donors, media influencers, Republican members of Congress, and only a bare handful of diplomats and people involved with foreign affairs.
Various good-government types quoted by NBC say the Pompeos “Madison Dinners” are an outrageous waste of taxpayer funds designed to solely benefit Pompeo personally. After all, they were kept off his formal calendar. When he did invite a foreign diplomat, he didn’t coordinate with the career State Department officials who work with that diplomat’s country.
And the vast majority of guests were people clearly in a position to advance Pompeo’s political ambitions: Fox news personalities, Republican megadonors, the heads of conservative policy organisations. They were folks he could butter up with a prestige dinner, then call on later for help when he runs for Senate or President.
By all means mock Pompeo for his hypocrisy: A couple of years ago at CPAC he railed against his predecessor’s John Kerry’s love of “fancy dinners.”
But the Madison dinners are no scandal, even if their primary purpose is varnishing Pompeo’s reputation, and even if the contact info of every invitee is vacuumed into Susan Pompeo’s personal files, as they seem to be.
One critical job of the Secretary of State is to evangelize the idea of America to the world, and to get America’s most accomplished people to join in that mission. The State Department has an entire division of public diplomacy that tries to show America’s best face. Pompeo’s invitation invokes the spirit of Madison, who “hosted dinners that gathered thinkers and leaders to share ideas on the future of America and the World.”
Pompeo’s dinners do include foreign diplomats and officials–the Saudi ambassador, the EU ambassador, the Malaysian ambassador, to name three. What better way to impress diplomatic allies than to surround them with the rich and powerful and hold a Serious Conversation?
Moreover, Pompeo invited people who could engage in a meaningful discussion about America’s place in the world, and then go spread the word about it. They might not be your cup of tea, but Fox News hosts have a huge platform and Republican donors have enormous influence:
If Pompeo can use his dinners to make them think differently about U.S. foreign policy, he’d just be doing his job–and doing it well.
A version of this post first appeared in “Insider Today,” a daily email written by Henry Blodget and David Plotz. To receive it in your inbox, please
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