Senate Passes 98-0 Resolution Against Making Available Current/Ex-Diplomats For Russia Questioning

 

A follow-up to Trump-Putin Summit Fallout: POTUS Entertains Proposal For Russia to Question Ex-US Amb Mike McFaul. The Senate has just passed a 98-0 resolution against making available for Russian questioning  current or former diplomats as well as other officials of the United States Government. The White House has now released a statement about Putin’s proposal that the President of the United States purportedly disagreed with but had previously called “an incredible offer.”

See July 19 update below via VOA with Secretary Pompeo saying “It’s not going to happen,” then added that “”President Trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians.”  

The notion that this proposal was made in “sincerity” by President Putin, and that President Trump disagreed with it is actually laughable. Were that true, the Press Secretary could have said immediately that the president pushed back hard against that proposal. This White House must really think we’re all dumb as rocks.

This was a no brainer. Ambassador McFaul, and the other officials that Russia wanted to question may not have been employees of this president, but they were employees and representatives of the United States of America, not of the Democratic Party (despite what this president might think or believe). The fact that this was even offered as a proposal tells us just what Putin think of this President. And the fact this President Trump did not push back and even appeared to consider it is horrifying.

So instead, the Press Secretary announced from the podium that the president “would work with his team” — excuse me, to do what exactly? And now the Press Secretary is saying that while President Trump disagreed with Putin’s proposal, “hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”  That proposal was supposedly in exchange for the questioning of USG individuals. And now all they have left is “hoping” that Putin will go ahead with the proposal anyway?

Holy caramba! No wonder Putin is laughing his head off; he’s playing chess against our White House playing find the shortest toothpick.

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UPDATE:

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Trump-Putin Summit Fallout: POTUS Entertains Proposal For Russia to Question Ex-US Amb Mike McFaul

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Trump-Putin Show: A Shocker to the World, But “Fabulous …Better Than Super” to Russians

 

The one-on-one summit meeting between President Trump and Russian President Putin finally happened today in Helsinki with no American officials in attendance as observers or notetakers, only interpreters.  The interpreter for the USG side is Marina Gross.

After a whole morning trapped in the vomitorium, we finally surfaced for air and some coffee. That joint press conference frankly was more bonkers than the SBC show we watched last night. After picking up our jaw from the floor, we saw that the Department of Justice this morning also unsealed a criminal complaint in the District of Columbia charging Maria Butina, a Russian national residing in Washington, D.C. with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States.

I’m still sick to my stomach. We’ll remember this Helsinki moment in the future.

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Secretary Pompeo’s Swagger Report From the POTUS’s European Show

 

President Trump left Washington for the seventh foreign trip  of his presidency with stops in Brussels; London; Glasgow (Scotland); and Helsinki.  Secretary Pompeo was on a visit to six countries in eight days with Brussels as the last leg of his trip where he joined President Trump in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

The Secretary’s swagger update continues telling his State Department employees that they “put a lot of mileage on the plane in a tight window of time. But our teams on the road, at posts, and at home delivered on the mission no matter where we were or what we were doing.”

He also informed employees that our new ambassadors to the Kingdom of Belgium, Ronald Gidwitz, and the European Union, Gordon Sondland “are off to a great start leading their respective missions” and that both are  “working closely with our NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison.”

Apparently USNATO mission is now in the new NATO headquarters and there was a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by the Secretary, Ambassador Hutchison, and Secretary of Defense Mattis. The Secretary told employees that “In many ways, this building symbolizes a new era for the most successful Alliance in history. Our goal is to strengthen NATO by increasing shared contributions and adapting it to better confront both conventional and unconventional threats.”

After President Trump’s confrontation at NATO which left the Alliance according to the NYT “intact but distracted and shaken”, the Secretary of State apparently chaired a meeting of the Coalition to Defeat ISIS, along with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and that he “encouraged greater stabilization assistance to support areas of Syria liberated from ISIS in Coalition-supported operations.”

He ended his report with the following inspiring words:  “You showed your swagger on every leg of this trip. Keep working hard, keep delivering on mission, and keep proudly representing the United States of America.”

He forgot to add that you should not forget to keep a brown paper bag handy in case you need to hide from the moon and the sun.

And then this — reports that the Pentagon embarked on “damage-control” after President Trump’s departure, and then the Secretary of Defense called that report fiction saying, “That was fascinating. I love reading fiction.”

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USG, Inc. Attempts to Derail World Health Assembly’s Nonbinding Resolution on #Breastfeeding

 

On June 7, the community editor of Malnutrition Deeply’s Amruta Byatnal reported about the attempt of the United Staes Government to derail a nonbinding resolution on breastfeeding at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.

What should have been a non-controversial discussion on breastfeeding turned rancorous at the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.Advocates at the event have accused the U.S. delegation of trying to stop a resolution on infant and young child feeding from being introduced. The U.S. representatives later pushed for diluted text that removes references to regulating aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes.

[snip]

The first draft was originally supported by Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Nepal, and contained several references to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which outlines what levels of marketing are acceptable while seeking to protect the health of infants and young children.

[snip]

This opposition made its way to the WHA, where the U.S. delegation allegedly threatened countries with trade retaliation if they introduced the resolution, according to civil society advocates. Ecuador, which had led the drafting of the resolution, actually pulled out from introducing it.

[snip]

The United States also attempted to stall this passage, advocates say, by suggesting an alternative text that omitted any reference to the WHO code or any of the text relating to specific guidance around inappropriate marketing of infants foods.

Reports say that the U.S. delegation was led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar who reportedly declined requests to provide on-the-record comments to news deeply.  Remember this is the same guy who told Congress  that he could find separated kids with basic keystrokes.

“There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” said Azar during a Senate hearing Tuesday. “I sat on the ORR portal, with just basic key strokes and within seconds could find any child in our care for any parent available.”

On July 8, NYT also reported the threats against Ecuador:

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

In the end, the Americans’ efforts were mostly unsuccessful. It was the Russians who ultimately stepped in to introduce the measure — and the Americans did not threaten them.

Oh-uh!

An anonymous HHS spox (not a blogger) provided a statement to the NYT:

“The resolution as originally drafted placed unnecessary hurdles for mothers seeking to provide nutrition to their children,” an H.H.S. spokesman said in an email. “We recognize not all women are able to breast-feed for a variety of reasons. These women should have the choice and access to alternatives for the health of their babies, and not be stigmatized for the ways in which they are able to do so.” The spokesman asked to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely.

So, it looks like there’s a growing list of cabinet secretaries and others who go on national TV, or speak from the podium to eternal, historical embarrassment … pray tell, who taped them to those lying microphones?

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Accountability Review Board Cuba Is Coming – Duck and Cover!

 

The Accountabilty Review Board Cuba report is getting ready to drop. Some top folks may look like shit, justifiably, and a few others may as well though so far every senior person in the department is using the whole “I couldn’t do anything because Tillerson and Margaret centralized everything.”

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@StateDept Prepares For Interim $20M+ US Embassy Jerusalem Arnona Project

Posted: 12:57 am ET

 

There was a curious story over the weekend about the new U.S. Embassy Jerusalem where POTUS claimed  to have saved millions and millions of dollars for the construction of the new embassy:

Trump has told this story before. In early March, during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump made the same claim about being presented with a $1 billion bill that he rejected. At that point, Trump said the actual cost would be $250,000, not $400,000.

Second, Trump’s depiction of what’s happening appears to glamorize the reality. To speed the process of transitioning from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the United States will be upgrading an existing facility in Jerusalem. The New York Times reported in February that the first phase — the phase that would be complete in the three-month window mentioned by Trump on Friday — would be to “carve out some office space for Ambassador David M. Friedman and a small staff.” Then, by the end of 2019, the existing compound will be expanded to increase the available office space.

Unless his staffers just gave POTUS a piece of paper purporting to be a bill for a $1 billion U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the description above is not how embassies are funded and constructed in the real world. First, the State Department’s Bureau of Buildings Operations is tasked with overseeing the construction of the agency’s overseas building program:

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) directs the worldwide overseas building program for the Department of State and the U.S. Government community serving abroad under the authority of the chiefs of mission. In concert with other State Department bureaus, foreign affairs agencies, and Congress, OBO sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds.

Second, the design and construction of these projects are announced for open competition.  It is a multi-phase process and typically spans multiple years depending on scope and size of the project.

Third, granted that this is a White House priority, Congress is still tasked with appropriating funds for the construction of this embassy.  We have not seen the amount for NEC Jerusalem project although the State Department’s budget justification did say:

The construction of a U.S. Embassy facility in Jerusalem will be among the Department’s highest priority for capital security investments in FY 2018 and FY 2019.

State/OBO has 15 overseas construction contracts in FY2017 at a total cost of about $3B; none includes the Jerusalem project. However, there was an A/E design award for a USCG Jerusalem project for $2,899,963 awarded in FY2016 to Krueck+Sexton Architects Chicago with project description listed as “BFM, proj. dvlp. services.”

Krueck+Sexton Architects also have this image up of US Consulate General Jerusalem. And one of its staffers in an online interview said that his “main focus has been on a master plan for a new U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israel, which includes a 200,000 sqft. office building and the development of several other government buildings on a 16-acre site.”

Of particular note — on April 16, USCG Jerusalem announced a “Meet and Greet” for contractors interested in “Phase 2 Arnona Project.” The project provides improvements to the Arnona property where the consulate general is located. A source familiar with the project confirmed to us that this is the interim build-out of the Arnona consular annex, and is intended to accommodate a small ambassador staff and the MSG Detachment. Below is an excerpt from USCG Jerusalem’s announcement (PDF):

There is an upcoming Building Construction project at the U.S. Consulate General Arnona Jerusalem. The project will be competitively let (bid) by U.S. general contractors, followed by project award to a single, winning U.S. contractor in June 2018. The U.S. contractor may subcontract renovation work to local, Israeli construction companies. The project award to a U.S. contractor is expected to exceed $20 million. The Design-Build project scope includes Building Addition, Compound Upgrades, and Improvements to Utilities and Parking.

If the interim US Embassy in Jerusalem is expected to cost at least $20M, who can really expect the permanent embassy to cost between $150K-$400K? It’s not like they’re just building a guard shack.

For context, just the replacement and repair of Forced Entry & Ballistic Resistant (FE/BR) products (doors/windows) for US Embassy Dhaka cost $1.1M back in 2011; an HVAC Upgrade in Bratislava cost $480,000.00 in 2011; and a temporary embassy “fit-out and installation” in Tripoli, Libya the same year cost $998,000.00. Also, the design/build of the consular waiting area alone in Port of Spain was $856,000. Heck, a Surabaya warehouse cost the USG $3,922,458. 00. More items here. So if somebody tells you he can build an embassy for $400K, best run away unless the work scope is for a tiny house embassy for one with no guards.

The interim Jerusalem embassy facility is not to be confused with the New Embassy Compound Jerusalem, which is a separate project, and is “yet to be defined” according to our source. The expectation is for the embassy design award to come out next year. Which means the construction of the new permanent embassy may not start until late 2019 or early 2020, with the actual completion of the NEC project 2-3 years later barring a calamity.

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All Promotions Into/Within the Senior Foreign Service Must be Vetted by White House?

Posted: 1:23 am  ET

 

State/HR recently sent a Frequently Asked Questions to newly promoted OCs concerning the differences between being an FS-01, the highest rank in the regular Foreign Service, and as OC, the starter rank in the Senior Foreign Service. The FAQ talks about pay, bidding, EERs, benefits, and of course, promotions. And then there’s this question, and apparent answer:

Q: When are promotions from FS-01 to OC effective?
Answer: Promotion boards issue a list in the fall of officers “recommended” for promotion from FS-01 to OC, OC to MC and MC to CM. However, all promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service must be vetted by the White House, confirmed by the Senate and attested by the President. This process can take several months. Promotions into and within the SFS are effective the first pay period following Presidential attestation. However, you may start bidding as an OC as soon as the promotion list is released by the board.

Yo! You know this is nuts, right? The White House can barely vet its own staffers, and it will now vet all promotions of FSOs into and within the Senior Foreign Service? With one exception that we are aware of (and we’ll write about that case separately), this WH vetting requirement is new, and yes, we remember the “improved” vetting required by the SFRC back in 2015 (SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).  Is the WH also vetting all senior promotions out of the Pentagon? Who’s going to be doing this and what does this vetting includes? Also whose great idea was this, pray tell?  Will State/HR and A/DGHR soon say that this vetting has always been done by the White House since the beginning of whatevs?

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Wait – @StateDept Has a Deputy “M” Again, a Position Discontinued by Congress in 1978

Posted: 2:30 pm  PT

 

With vacant offices and multiple departures from members of the Foreign Service and the State Department, it is hard to keep track sometimes of what’s happening amidst the opportunities and chaos in Foggy Bottom.

Bill Todd, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary & Acting Director General of the Foreign Service & Acting Director of Human Resources apparently has a fresh new title to add to his Twitter profile: Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management, a position discontinued by Congress in 1978.

How did that happen?

Apparently somebody convinced the now outgoing Secretary of State to sign a memo reconstituting this title on March 4. Did anyone bother to inform Secretary Tillerson that the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management was discontinued specifically since Congress established the permanent position of Under Secretary of State for Management in 1978? And if nobody informed him …

Yo. This is sad.

Since the discontinued title/position was made “live” again a couple of weeks ago, there were people wondering why this title was resurrected now, and without any official announcement. Today, of course, a day before Tillerson is set to exit Foggy Bottom, the first memo sent under this office is out, so it’s not a secret anymore (bland, routine memo with A Message From Deputy Under Secretary for Management Regarding Planning for a Potential Lapse in Appropriations). And our inbox lighted up from folks with “Whoa, did you see this?” or “State has a Deputy M? or “When was the last time the State Department had a Deputy Under Secretary for Management?”

Whoa, indeed! Not since 1978, my dears.

What we want to know is if Congress is okay with this given that it purposely killed this position when it created the  permanent”M” by legislation decades ago.

Trump’s nominee as the next Under Secretary of State for Management Eric Ueland was nominated last year, renominated earlier this year and was cleared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February. The last Senate-confirmed “M” Patrick Kennedy retired in 2017 in the mass departures of top officials following the arrival of Secretary Tillerson and his aides in Foggy Bottom.  If Mr. Ueland’s nomination survives the current churn, he would be wise to seek assistance from Kennedy during his transition. Whether you like Patrick Kennedy or not, he was the longest serving M at State and no one who knows him questions his dedication to the institution. He also made Foggy Bottom run. The new secretary of state cannot focus his attention on the business of diplomacy if his own building and the people in it are in disarray.

In related news —

Stephen Akard, the nominee to be the next Director General of the Foreign Service has now been withdrawn. We are hearing that a career nominee for DGHR is forthcoming but we don’t have a timeframe for when the announcement might happen. We are guessing that the DGHR position could be among the first that will be announced in the next few weeks leading to Secretary-Designate Pompeo’s confirmation hearing.

Although Akard was a former FSO, his nomination as DGHR was fairly unpopular in the career service and even among retirees, and we understand that the State Department leadership, particularly the Deputy Secretary is aware of this. We think that the withdrawal of the Akard nomination and the announcement of a respected career diplomat as the new DGHR nominee could give the new secretary of state and the career service a fresh start without the baggage of bad feelings casting a shadow over Pompeo’s transition as the country’s top diplomat.

And for those not too familiar  with State, DGHR is one of the bureaus and offices that report to the Under Secretary of State for Management. We have to point out that when the next DGHR is nominated and confirmed, the Acting DGHR right now would presumably be overseeing the Senate-confirmed DGHR in his capacity as the new Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management.

Oh, lordy! We can’t wait to read all your oral histories!

image via imgur

Via history.state.gov:

Deputy Under Secretaries of State for Management

The Department of State by administrative action created the position of Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration, after Congress authorized ten Assistant Secretary of State positions (two of which could be at the Deputy Under Secretary of State level) in the Department of State Organization Act of 1949 (May 26, 1949; P.L. 81-73; 63 Stat. 111). Between 1953 and 1955, the ranking officer in the Department handling administrative matters was the Under Secretary of State for Administration. The Department re-established the position of Deputy Under Secretary for Administration in 1955, after Congress authorized three Deputy Under Secretary positions in the State Department Organization Act of Aug 5, 1955 (P.L. 84-250; 69 Stat. 536). The Department of State by administrative action changed the title of the position to Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management on Jul 12, 1971.

The position of Deputy Under Secretary for Management was discontinued when an Act of Congress of Oct 7, 1978, established the permanent position of Under Secretary of State for Management (P.L. 85-426; 92 Stat. 968).

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