On October 29, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), requesting a review to determine whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has violated the Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, which limits certain political activities of federal employees. According to OSC, the law’s purposes are “to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.”
I write to request an immediate review and assessment of the Secretary of State’s compliance with the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7321-7326.
Since March 2019, the Secretary has taken three official trips to Kansas, apparently at the expense of the Department of State. During the latest trip, from October 24 to 25, 2019, the Secretary visited the Wichita State University Tech National Center for Aviation Training, participated in a workforce development roundtable, visited Textron Aviation Longitude and Latitude Production, and met with students from Wichita State University.
In an interview, he refused to discuss matters related to Ukraine, insisting he was “here today to talk about workforce development. I came here today to talk about the great things that are going on here in Kansas.” The events in Kansas were aimed largely at promoting the President’s “Pledge to American Workers,” which has no discernible relation to the Department of State. According to The Wall Street Journal, he also “discussed the U.S. Senate race in Kansas” with Charles Koch, the head of Koch Industries, and former top contributor to his political campaigns, as well as backer of Pompeo’s prior business. Textron Inc., the parent company of Textron Aviation, was also a major contributor to then-Congressman Pompeo’s political campaigns.
For months, public reports have persisted that the Secretary was considering running for U.S. Senate in Kansas. Many in Kansas perceive his appearances in the state to be a de facto campaign effort. Indeed, an October 25, 2019 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Mike Pompeo, either quit and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus on your day job,” seems to indicate his actions are already being construed as evidence of a possible candidacy by members of the press and the public in Kansas. And following his trip, the Department of State’s official twitter handle posted a workforce and Kansas-centric video montage of the Secretary’s visit, which appears to have no nexus to the Department’s official work.
Secretary Pompeo is not any federal employee. Rather, he is one of the most prominent members of the President’s cabinet. He appears frequently on TV and for interviews, and, as is true for many Secretaries of State, is known and recognized by the American public. Thus, it is even more crucial that he and the Department maintain a clear line between his actions as a federal employee and steward of the U.S. government, and any efforts that could be perceived as political in nature or laying the groundwork for potential campaign activity. I therefore ask that you review his travel and his interactions in Kansas closely, and determine whether any violations have occurred or additional guidance to the Department or the Secretary may be warranted.
The full letter is available to read here.
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) October 25, 2019