Venezuela Special Envoy Elliot Abrams Gets a Protest, and a Grilling in Congress

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

After thirty or so years, Elliot Abrams is back at the State Department. This time as the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Venezuela (see @SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela).

On February 13, together with Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department and USAID’s Steve Olive, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Abrams appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to talk about Venezuela at a Crossroads.

Note that the State Department’s WHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Venezuela did not testify at this hearing.

Protesters interrupted Mr. Abrams testimony, and the grilling he received from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) received much commentary. For those too young to remember the old times, see Brown University’s Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,  a project developed from its applied ethics and public policy course on Good Government.

It is likely that this is not an isolated incident; that every time Mr. Abrams appear before a committee in Congress, or before the media that his past will never be too far away; he may have been pardoned but he has not been forgotten. Even when he is there to talk about Venezuela, people will ask him questions about Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, human rights, El Mozoteetc. etc. etc.

Which makes one wonder why he was appointed to this job in the first place. Whatever message there is will pale in the presence of the messenger.

On February 14, Cuba accused the U.S. of moving special forces in preparation for a Venezuelan intervention under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis. Reuters reported that that Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, and he said “it is a new lie.”

A side note, with the Senate’s confirmation of William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States — it’s like we’re back to the 80’s.  On December 25, 1992, this was the NYT headline: Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’:

[…]

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.
[…]
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline,” likening today’s pardons to President Richard M. Nixon’s dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. “It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,” he said. “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.”

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

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11/30 SFRC Hearings: Braithwaite, Trujillo, Bierman, and McClenny

Posted: 2:45 am ET

 

Prepared statements and the confirmation hearing video will be posted here when available.

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SFRC Hearings: Goldstein, Gonzales, Johnson, Evans, Lawler #OBE

Posted: 12:18 am ET
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We missed the Nov 1 confirmation hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so this is an OBE post. We are posting them below to easily retrieve the nominees’ prepared testimonies and provide a link to the video.  We have also added links to the Certificates of Competency for Chiefs of Mission. Per Section 304 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, Certificates of Competency must be presented to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for presidential nominees to be Chief of Mission that demonstrate the competence of [a] nominee to perform the duties of the position in which he or she is to serve. Unfortunately, there is no such requirements for top ranking nominees in the State Department.

Date: Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Portman

Click here for the video of the confirmation hearing.

Mr. Irwin Steven Goldstein
Of New York, To Be Under Secretary Of State For Public Diplomacy
Download Testimony

Ms. Rebecca Eliza Gonzales
Gonzales, Rebecca Eliza – Kingdom of Lesotho – September 2017
Of Texas, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Kingdom Of Lesotho |
Download Testimony

Ms. Lisa A. Johnson
Johnson Lisa A. – Republic of Namibia – October 2017
Of Washington, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Namibia
Download Testimony

Mr. James Randolph Evans
(certificate not available at state.gov as of 11/2/2017)
Of Georgia, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To Luxembourg
Download Testimony

Mr. Sean P. Lawler
o
f Maryland, To Be Chief Of Protocol, And To Have The Rank Of Ambassador During His Tenure Of Service
Download Testimony

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WED 9/27 SFRC PM Hearings: Hoekstra, Buchan, Grenell, McMullen, McCourt

Posted: 11:05 am PT
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Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Time: 02:15 PM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Johnson

Prepared statements and live video of hearing will be posted here when available.  Hyperlinked below are the Certificates of Competency for Nominees to be Chiefs of Mission per  Section 304 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

NOMINEES

The Honorable Peter Hoekstra
Of Michigan, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Kingdom Of The Netherlands
Hoekstra, Peter – Kingdom of the Netherlands – August 2017

Mr. Richard Duke Buchan III
Of Florida, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Kingdom Of Spain
Buchan III, Richard Duke – Kingdom of Spain and the Principality of Andorra – August 2017

Mr. Richard Grenell
Of California, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Federal Republic Of Germany
Grenell Richard Allen – Federal Republic of Germany- September 2017

Mr. Edward T. McMullen, Jr.
Of South Carolina, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Swiss Confederation, And To Serve Concurrently And Without Additional Compensation As Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Principality Of Liechtenstein
McMullen Jr. Edward Thomas – Swiss Confederation and Principality of Liechtenstein – September 2017

Ms. Jamie McCourtOf California, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The French Republic, And To Serve Concurrently And Without Additional Compensation As Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Principality Of Monaco
McCourt, Jamie – French Republic and Principality of Monaco – August 2017

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WED 9/27 SFRC AM Hearings: Fitzpatrick (Timor-Leste), Kritenbrink (Vietnam)

Posted: 10:54 am PT
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Date: Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Time: 10:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Gardner

The prepared statements and live video of the hearings are available here.  Hyperlinked below are the Certificates of Competency for Nominees to be Chiefs of Mission per  Section 304 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.

Nominations

Ms. Kathleen M. Fitzpatrick
Of The District Of Columbia, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Democratic Republic Of Timor-Leste
Fitzpatrick Kathleen M. Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste August 2017

Mr. Daniel J. Kritenbrink
Of Virginia, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Socialist Republic Of Vietnam
Kritenbrink, Daniel J. Kritenbrink – Socialist Republic of Vietnam – Comp Statement – August 2017
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House Foreign Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on @StateDept ReDesign With Tillerson Oops, Sullivan

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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On Tuesday, September 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the State Department’s redesign efforts. You’d think that the chief sponsor of this entire endeavor, Secretary Tillerson would be at the hearing to answer questions from congressional representatives. But it looks like Mr. Tillerson is meeting the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher at the Department of State at 10:25 a.m.. That leaves his Deputy John  Sullivan as “it” for the hot seat instead.

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “This hearing is the latest in our ongoing oversight of the State Department’s vital work. It will allow members to raise important questions about the State Department’s redesign plan, and help inform the committee’s efforts to authorize State Department functions.”

The American Academy of Diplomacy previously wrote to Secretary Tillerson requesting that the reorganization plan be made public and was refused (see Former Senior Diplomats Urge Tillerson to Make Public @StateDept’s Reorganization Plan).  The group has now written a new letter addressed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee expressing its support for the “sensible streamlining and the elimination of offices and positions in order to promote effective diplomacy.” It also tells HFAC that it believes that “the Administration should reconsider the decision to declare its plan for reorganization “pre-decisional.” The Congress should ask that the plans to date and those to be considered be made available for public comment.” More:

The Academy believes certain principles should guide the reorganization.
–Change only those things which will strengthen U.S. diplomacy.
–People are more important than programs. Programs can be rebuild quickly. Getting a senior Foreign Service takes 5 to 20 years.
–As a rule, front-line personnel should be increased, although there are Embassies where there are more people, including those from other agencies, than U.S. interests require

It points out that the Foreign Service has a built-in RIF in its system:

The Foreign Service, as up-or-out service, loses about 300 – 400 FSOs and Specialists each year by selection out for low ranking, expiration of time in class, failure to pass over a promotion threshold or reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. Only Foreign Service personnel are subject to world-wide availability. With their experience, capabilities and languages, they can be sent anywhere, anytime to meet America’s foreign policy objectives. Over the last 12 years the largest personnel increases have been the additions of Civil Service personnel in State’s Regional and, particularly, Functional Bureaus.

And there is this interesting request for clarity on potential appointees; are there talks that DGHR would be filled by a political appointee?

We believe the key positions of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, the Director General, and the Dean of the Foreign Service Institute should be career Foreign Service Officers. The Director General, a position established by the Act, should be appointed from those that have the senior experience and personal standing to guide the long-term future of the staff needed for effective diplomacy. We respectfully ask that Congress get clarification as to whether it is the Department’s intention to nominate an appropriately senior serving or retired Foreign Service Officer for the position of Director General.

The group also writes that it “encourage the Congress to press hard for clarity about the objectives of this reorganization process: is the goal increasing effectiveness or rationalizing budget decisions?”

Read the letter below or click here (PDF).

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9/19 SFRC Hearings: Jon Huntsman Jr. (Russia), Wess Mitchell (State/EUR)

Posted: 12:47 am ET
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The SFRC is holding two hearings today, one for Ambassador Huntsman’s nomination to be the next Ambassador to Russia, and the second, Wess Mitchell’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary of State for the EUR Bureau.

Date: Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Panel One

The Honorable Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.
Of Utah, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Russian Federation
His Certificate of Demonstrated Competence per Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4) is available here.

Panel Two

Mr. A. Wess Mitchell
Of Virginia, To Be An Assistant Secretary Of State (European And Eurasian Affairs)

The prepared statements and live video of the hearing will be available here.

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SFRC Hearings: Eric M. Ueland (M), John R. Bass (Afghanistan), Justin Siberell (Bahrain), Steven Dowd (ADB)

Posted: 4:25 am ET
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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding confirmation hearings for four State Department nominees today. The first panel has a one sole nominee, Eric M. Euland to be the Under Secretary of State for Management (see Trump to Nominate Top GOP Budget Aide Eric Ueland to be Under Secretary for Management #StateDept). The second panel includes two nominees for ambassador, both career diplomats: John R. Bass for Afghanistan, and Justin Siberell for Bahrain, and J. Steven Dowd, the nominee for The African Development Bank.

Date: Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

The prepared statements and a live video of the hearings will be posted here when available.

Panel One

Mr. Eric M. Ueland
Of Oregon, To Be An Under Secretary Of State (Management)

Panel Two

The Honorable John R. Bass
Of New York, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Islamic Republic Of Afghanistan

Mr. Justin Hicks Siberell
Of Maryland, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Kingdom Of Bahrain
Mr. J. Steven Dowd
Of Florida, To Be United States Director Of The African Development Bank For A Term Of Five Years
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SFRC Confirmation Hearings: Ambassador Nominees Michael A. Raynor, Maria E. Brewer, and John P. Desrocher

Posted: 3:12 am ET
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We missed this one but last Wednesday, the SFRC held a confirmation hearing on the nominations of three career diplomats to be ambassadors to Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, and Algeria.

Date: Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Time: 10:00 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Flake

The video is available to watch here.

Nominees

The Honorable Michael Arthur Raynor
Of Maryland, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Federal Democratic Republic Of Ethiopia
Download Testimony

Ms. Maria E. Brewer
Of Indiana, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Sierra Leone
Download Testimony

Mr. John P. Desrocher
Of New York, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassado Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The People’s Democratic Republic Of Algeria
Download Testimony

 

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July 20 SFRC Hearing: Kay Bailey Hutchison to be U.S. Ambassador to NATO

Posted: 1:22 am ET
Updated: 11:48 am PT
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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) is holding a confirmation hearing on the nomination of former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to be the next U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

Date: Thursday, July 20, 2017
Time: 09:30 AM
Location: SD-419
Presiding: Senator Corker

A live video of the hearing and the prepared testimony will be posted here when available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Per Section 712 of the Department of State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2017, the State Department is required to post the Certificates of Competency online within seven days of transmittal to the Senate.  As of this writing, there is no report available online for Senator Hutchison.

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