Spotlight on @StateDept Top Lawyer Marik String’s Experience and Conflict of Interest

The State Department’s official bio says that Marik String was appointed as Acting Legal Adviser of the Department of State on June 1, 2019. Previous to this appointment, the bio says he “served in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, where he performed the duties of the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs; Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary; and Deputy Assistant Secretary.  He managed more than 400 officers and the U.S. government’s $200 billion annual arms transfer portfolio, including the compliance and enforcement functions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).”  Prior to his stint at PolMil, he served as Senior Advisor to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, now Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
String’s financial disclosure report says that he joined the State Department as Senior Advisor on July 13, 2017.
A June 13, 2019 reporting on Just Security notes that a “congressman raised his concern that String had been appointed Acting Legal Adviser to the State Department on May 24, “the very day that this emergency declaration was sent to the Hill, according to public records, this is when he got the promotion to be the top lawyer.” String worked for Cooper until May 23.”
That would be Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper who assumed office on May 2, 2019.
We don’t know when this bio went up and if it had been updated.
The Senate-confirmed Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead’s departure was announced on April 22, 2019. If String wasn’t designated Acting Legal Adviser until June 1, 2019 as his official bio says, then pray tell who blessed Pompeo’s emergency declaration?
Via Just Security:
The newly published IG report does not probe String’s actions once he transitioned from working in the department that oversees FMS [foreign military sales] to working as the State Department’s top lawyer. Nor does it address String’s possible actions regarding the redactions of the report, which were applied, according to the State Department, to “protect executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”
But at least two senior State Department officials have testified to String’s conduct: both his work on the emergency waiver and his later interactions with the IG’s office. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner testified on July 24 that String “identified an ‘authority’ in the law ‘that allow[ed] for an emergency declaration of arms transfers,’” as Democratic members of Congress noted in their subpoena to interview String and others involved in the sale. They further noted:

“On the day of the emergency declaration, May 24, 2019, Mr. String was promoted to Acting State Department Legal Adviser, a position he still holds. When asked about those two events happening on the same day, Mr. Faulkner testified: ‘I think I see the significance of those statements.’”

During Linick’s recent testimony on the matter, he recalled a meeting between himself, String, and the current State Department Under Secretary for Management Brain Bulatao. In this meeting, Bulatao reportedly indicated to the IG that he “shouldn’t be doing the [Iranian Arms Sale investigation] because it was a policy matter not within the IG’s jurisdiction.” During the meeting, String agreed, according to the former IG’s testimony:

HFAC Dem Counsel: So Mr. String said that he didn’t think you should be looking into this, and Undersecretary Bulatao said he didn’t think you should be looking into this. Is that correct?

Linick: That’s correct, yes. Yes.

     Bulatao at times “tried to bully me,” Linick told the HFAC.

Read in full below:

Former Congressman Mike Pompeo Rejects Congressional Subpoenas

 

 

 

Acting @StateOIG Stephen Akard Quits After Less Than 3 Months

 

Well, now, what do we make of this?  The Acting State OIG Stephen Akard has reportedly quit after less than three months in office. WaPo is reporting that Akard was taking a position with a law firm in Indiana, his home state. “It’s unclear whether there were other factors in his decision.”
The guy who caused the firing of Akard’s predecessor dismissed a question about Akard’s departure during a news conference on Wednesday. “He left to go back home,” Pompeo said. “This happens. I don’t have anything more to add to that.”
How long before Mr. Akard gets called “a bad actor?
CNN reported that Akard previously told State/OIG officials and at the State Department that “he would be recusing himself from the ongoing investigations into Pompeo and his wife due to the fact that he was maintaining his State Department post.” Apparently, in early June, he also “told Democratic lawmakers investigating the circumstances of Linick’s ouster that he had stepped away from his role as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, but had not resigned.”
A day prior to his reported resignation, Politico reported about an IG investigation into the  Office of the Chief of Protocol. The report cited by Politico “asserts that two senior officials in the protocol office, Cam Henderson and Mary-Kate Fisher, saw or learned of allegedly abusive behavior by Sean Lawler, the former chief of protocol, but failed to report it to human resources officials.”
Via Politico:
Its report cites “numerous” employees, as well as other probes by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Office of Civil Rights, in laying out its findings. But it also states that “all employees” interviewed “expressed a fear of retaliation” for speaking out. To protect their confidentiality, the report notes that it “discusses its findings in general terms.”
A top Pompeo deputy zeroed in on the resulting lack of specificity in his response, issued on behalf of the department’s 7th-floor leadership.
The response, dated June 30 and marked “unclassified,” is from Ulrich Brechbuhl, the State Department counselor and Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff. It is addressed to Stephen Akard, the acting inspector general, and his deputy Diana Shaw, and it is largely defensive of Henderson and Fisher while questioning the motives of the investigators.
[…]
“Leadership considers this matter closed,” Brechbuhl concludes. “We expect future reports from the OIG to be objective, comprehensive, professional and appropriate.”
The next thing we’re going to hear is that Pompeo’s other BFF Brechbuhl did not inform his boss before blasting the agency’s own “watchdog” of  “systemic pattern of selective inclusion and exclusion of facts.”
But State OIG is warned, very clearly, that future reports from that office is “expected”  to be “objective, comprehensive, professional ….”  Oh, and also “appropriate.”
Got that?

 

Related posts:

So That’s Why @StateOIG Steve Linick Was Fired Urgently Under Cover of Darkness

 

State IG Steve Linick appeared before HFAC on June 3rd. You can read his prepared statement in the link below. There is also a summary of his congressional interview today. We understand that a transcript will be made available publicly at some point.
Politico reports:

“Linick also confirmed to lawmakers that he was investigating Pompeo and his wife for “allegations of misuse of government resources.” Linick revealed that he had sought documents from Pompeo’s executive secretary, Lisa Kenna, and discussed the probe with Bulatao and another senior State Department official, Stephen Biegun, to ensure that Pompeo’s inner circle “would not be surprised.” Pompeo later told The Washington Post that he was unaware of the investigation.”

The panel plans to seek interviews with the following current and former State Department officials. Dear HFAC, please have public hearings so we can see them earn points in their professional ethos scorecards.
Related:

 

More related posts:

 

@StateDept Officials Reportedly Wary of Acting IG Akard Who Also Reports to Pompeo BFF Bulatao

 

On May 30, CNN tweeted that “the ousted State Inspector General Steve Linick is expected to sit down for a transcribed interview on Wednesday, June 3rd,  with lawmakers who are probing his firing earlier this month, according to two congressional aides familiar with the inquiry and scheduling.”
Steve Linick’s removal was effective in “30 days.” But Linick has since been told apparently that “he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work.”
Meanwhile, over in the Foggiest Bottom, the Acting State/IG Stephen Akard (who is reportedly keeping his other day job as @OFM_Ambassador) has assumed charged of the IG office the Monday following Linick’s Friday night firing.
Politico’s Nahal Toosi  is reporting about the reactions from State Department officials, and there are all sorts of worries:
    • “State Department officials are increasingly uneasy with their new acting inspector general, fearing he has conflicts of interest that could lead him to derail ongoing investigations — including ones into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — while endangering cooperating witnesses.”
    • “Some State Department staffers fear Akard will try to rescind, or otherwise undermine, past investigations conducted by his ousted predecessor, Steve Linick.”
    • “Others worry that the presence of Akard, who also has ties to Vice President Mike Pence, will scare off employees who wish to report waste, fraud and abuse.”
    • “Meanwhile, State Department employees who were interviewed for ongoing and past investigations – often under conditions of anonymity – are worried that Akard will track down their identities and share them with Pompeo and others. They fear they will be targeted for professional retribution as a result.”
    • “Another State Department staffer predicted that colleagues will shy away from reporting future cases of wrongdoing at the department because of Akard.”
Concerns from Capitol Hill:

“There also are concerns on Capitol Hill and beyond that Akard will seek ways to undermine Linick’s past, completed investigations that may have upset Pompeo and some of his top aides.”

Now, this part of Politico’s reporting should be a red flag. If true that this was Akards defense when asked about a potential conflict of interest, this is a bad sign:

“When asked about these potential conflicts of interest, Akard has offered a “head-scratching” take, a person familiar with the situation told POLITICO. Akard has said that, in reality, Bulatao is not his supervisor, but that his actual boss is Trump, because it’s the president who technically nominated him to serve as the head of OFM.”

OFM’s Stephen Akard reports to Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao. Period.

“As the head of the Office of Foreign Missions, Akard reports to Bulatao. As the undersecretary of State for management, Bulatao also oversees several other major divisions within the State Department, such as the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

If any of those other units falls under investigation by the inspector general’s office, some State Department officials argue, Akard can’t reasonably expect to play a role in the probe because he also reports to Bulatao. Bulatao is a longtime personal friend and former business partner of Pompeo’s.

His new staff have asked him what he will do if instructed by Pompeo or others not to investigate something. His response was that unless there was a very good reason, he would say that such an instruction was inappropriate. Akard also has acknowledged that he may have to recuse himself from certain matters.”

What does Pompeo want? A pet in his pocket?
    • But the fact that the chief U.S. diplomat has been so public about what he views as the proper role of an inspector general worries staffers who fear Akard will internalize the message.
    • In a Thursday interview with Fox News, Pompeo indirectly made it clear what he would like to see in an inspector general when he hinted that Linick was too independent.
    • “He was acting in a way that was deeply inconsistent with what the State Department was trying to do,” Pompeo said of Linick. “We tried to get him to be part of a team that was going to help protect his own officers from Covid-19; he refused to be an active participant. He was investigating policies he simply didn’t like. That’s not the role of an inspector general … This was about an IG who was attempting to undermine the mission of the United States Department of State. That’s unacceptable.”
Watch Pompeo’s actions not the blah, blah, blahs!
    • “One of the political appointees singled out for criticism by Linick was Kevin Moley, the head of the bureau. Even though some of Pompeo’s top aides acknowledged many of the problems described in Linick’s report, they claimed the secretary of State had no power to fire Moley because he was a presidential appointee. Instead, Moley was allowed to quietly retire several weeks later.
    • “(The State Department has never responded to questions from POLITICO about whether Pompeo had ever asked Trump to fire Moley. He did do so for Linick, who also was a presidential appointee.)”
The fact that Pompeo asked Trump to fire Linick but offered no actions following the IG reports on staff mistreatments says something about his organizational view of Foggy Bottom. There is an in-group and an out-group in Foggy Bottom’s universe, and only the in-group really matters.
You folks notice that Pompeo is really doing a nasty number on Linick? Not just recommending to Trump that Linick be fired, but throwing rocks and mud at Linick on his way out.  It really makes one wonder what kind of issues Linick was digging up as Foggy Bottom’s junkyard dog.
Linick was fired at a carefully selected time, then reportedly barred from returning to his office even if the firing did not become official for 30 more days. Pompeo quipped that he “should have done it some time ago,”  So why was it not done some time ago?
Why did it become so urgent, they had to fire him under cover of darkness on a Friday night on May 15th?
Then they apparently barred him from returning to his office, not even affording  a dedicated public servant the courtesy of allowing him to pack up his personal things, say goodbye to his colleagues, or have an orderly transition.
Then the Acting IG, double hatted as @OFM_Ambassadorshowed up at his new office the following business day to make everyone happy.
State OIG has a Deputy IG Diana R. Shaw.  Why was she not picked as Acting IG?  Questions, so many questions. If you got answers, we’re interested in listening.

 

Some Dings and Cheers For the Bureau of Counterterrorism in New OIG Report

State/OIG recently released its inspection report of the Bureau of Counterterrorism.

“At the time of the inspection, the bureau’s authorized staffing included 112 Foreign Service and Civil Service positions, augmented by 53 contractor positions and 43 additional personnel and detailees from other U.S. Government agencies. The bureau has 13 offices in addition to the Front Office. Nine offices support policy issues, such as counterterrorism finance, aviation security, collection of biometric information, foreign terrorist fighters, and bilateral and multilateral diplomatic engagement. Two offices carry out operational responsibilities related to the Department of Defense, and one office designs and manages CT-funded assistance programs. Finally, the Office of the Executive Director focuses on bureau administrative requirements and also provides support to the Office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. The bureau managed $642 million in active foreign assistance program funds that spanned multiple fiscal years, including through annual and multiyear projects involving other Department bureaus and Federal agencies.”

The report says that the CT Coordinator “exhibited decisive leadership” but apparently, CT bureau employees and senior officials from other Department bureaus “told OIG about occasions on which the Coordinator lost his temper in meetings with U.S. Government officials and foreign partners. When OIG spoke with the Coordinator about the issue, he acknowledged the problem and responded positively to OIG’s suggestions for improvement.”
The report notes that “staff in interviews and in responses to OIG questionnaires gave the Coordinator lower marks for adherence to leadership principles found in 3 FAM 1214b(6) and (9) regarding self-awareness and managing conflict.” 
The Bureau concurred with all 11 recommendations and the OIG considered all recommendations resolved.
Summary of OIG Findings:

• The Coordinator for Counterterrorism exhibited decisive leadership, marked by setting clear strategic goals and communicating them effectively to staff. This enabled the Bureau of Counterterrorism to navigate major shifts in its mission since 2016.

• At times, the Coordinator engaged in conduct that negatively affected employee morale and productivity.

• The bureau established effective internal policy coordination and communication processes.

• Employees from other Department of State bureaus and Federal agencies expressed differing opinions about the bureau’s effectiveness in promoting its policy goals in interagency processes.

• The Bureau of Counterterrorism did not provide sufficient policy guidance, training, and administrative support to overseas employees responsible for coordinating and reporting on regional counterterrorism issues.

• Vacancies in 22 percent of the bureau’s Civil Service positions hampered operations.

• The bureau’s Office of the Executive Director did not have systems in place to measure the results of key administrative activities and efficiently communicate with customers. As a result, bureau staff expressed dissatisfaction with the administrative and support services delivered by the office.

• The bureau did not follow Department procedures for software development.

•The lack of information technology contingency plans placed at risk the bureau’s ability to support these functions in the event of an unplanned disruption.

Executive Direction:

Tone at the Top and Standards of Conduct : The Coordinator assumed his position in August 2017. At the time of the inspection, he also served as acting Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Prior to joining the Department, the Coordinator was a law professor. He previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy in the Department of Homeland Security and worked on counterterrorism policy and judicial confirmations in the Office of Legal Policy in the Department of Justice. The Principal Deputy Coordinator, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, arrived in 2016, after having previously served as Coordinator for U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, among other senior positions in the Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Coordinator Decisively Led Bureau During Major Mission Shifts, but Travel Schedule and Temperament Issues Resulted in Employee Stress: The Coordinator exhibited decisive leadership during a major expansion of the bureau’s counterterrorism efforts. CT employees and others interviewed by OIG described the Coordinator’s operating style as decisive, strategic, and action-oriented — qualities that are consistent with leadership principles in 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 1214(2) and (3). The Coordinator demonstrated a command of complex technical and diplomatic policy issues in meetings OIG observed, consistent with responsibilities outlined in 1 FAM 481.1. Since 2016, the bureau had broadened its efforts to counter violent extremism, launched the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) initiative, 9 assumed responsibility for aspects of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, and took over responsibility for the sensitive policy area of terrorist detentions. OIG concluded the Coordinator took appropriate steps to set and communicate policy priorities for these new responsibilities.

Nonetheless, despite positive comments regarding his decisiveness, staff in interviews and in responses to OIG questionnaires gave the Coordinator lower marks for adherence to leadership principles found in 3 FAM 1214b(6) and (9) regarding self-awareness and managing conflict. Staff described the Coordinator as unaware of the demands his travel schedule placed on employees and said that at times they lacked a clear understanding of the purpose and outcomes of the Coordinator’s travel, which included 21 international trips in FY 2019, of which 1 was to a CTPF focus country.10 Additionally, the Coordinator’s practice of scheduling trips on short notice burdened staff, who had to put regular duties on hold to prepare briefing documents and handle travel logistics. OIG advised the Coordinator to share readouts of the outcomes of his travel with his staff to broaden their understanding of the purposes and results of his trips. Although it is within the Coordinator’s discretion to determine the extent and nature of such readouts, providing at least some information would be consistent with the Department’s leadership principles in 3 FAM 1214(4) and (7) pertaining to communication and collaboration.

Bureau employees and senior officials from other Department bureaus also told OIG about occasions on which the Coordinator lost his temper in meetings with U.S. Government officials and foreign partners. When OIG spoke with the Coordinator about the issue, he acknowledged the problem and responded positively to OIG’s suggestions for improvement. OIG advised the Coordinator to review the Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees in 3 FAM 1214, which he agreed to do.

The Coordinator delegated many operational and policy tasks to the Principal Deputy Coordinator, with whom he had a productive relationship. In responses to OIG’s questionnaire, bureau staff gave the Principal Deputy Coordinator strong scores on her performance and leadership. In addition, several bureau employees cited her improvements to, and transformation of, the bureau’s budget and program management functions as positive developments for the bureau. Outside observers also noted the Principal Deputy Coordinator’s leadership and support for CT staff as being essential to the bureau’s success at a time of rapid change and significant pressure.

The CT Coordinator is Nathan Sales. The Principal Deputy Coordinator at the time of this review was Alina Romanowski. She was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait in December 2019. The inspection team was headed by Ambassador Joseph Macmanus, former U.S. Ambassador to UNVIE and Executive Secretary of the State Department from 2014-2017.

SCA Acting Asst Secretary Alice Wells to Retire After 31 Years of Service

 

Ousted WH Official Mick Mulvaney Gets a New Gig as Special Envoy to Northern Ireland

 

On March 11, 2020, the State Department released a statement on the appointment of former White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as the new Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, a position first created under the Clinton Administration in 1995. Apparently, the formal title is Special Envoy of the President and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.  This is the top U.S. diplomat supporting the Northern Ireland peace process.
Mulvaney’s predecessors  include former U.S. Senator and former Majority Leader of the United States Senate George Mitchell, former S/P Richard Haass, former S/P Mitchell Reiss, former  Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs  Paula Dobriansky, and businessman Declan Kelly appointed as economic envoy to Northern Ireland by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  There were two long stretches where no one was appointed to this job; from 2011-2014 and again from 2017-2020.
The most recent appointee to this position was former Colorado Senator Gary Hart who was appointed during the Obama Administration and served from 2014-2017.  Special envoy positions do not require Senate confirmations.  Some special envoys have offices in Foggy Bottom but we have not been able to find a listing for the Office of the Special Envoy to Northern Ireland in the State Department directory. Any guesses on where they will put his desk?

Trump Installs U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence #triplehatted

 

New motto: “Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …”

 

Via NYT:

American diplomats who had pushed for the Trump administration to restore security funding to Ukraine were advised by the White House to play down the release of the money when it was finally approved, documents show.

“Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …” Brad Freden, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary overseeing issues in Europe and Eurasia, wrote in a Sept. 12 email obtained by The New York Times.

He said the National Security Council would not publicly announce that $141 million in State Department assistance was being restored after being held up in what the White House described as a normal review.

Also @StateDept Bureau Junks Professional Ethos Big Time (Who Wanna Tell Mike?)