U.S. Senate Confirms First Political Ambassador to Thailand in 47 Years

 

We missed this one last year. On July 15, 2019, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Michael George DeSombre to be the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination on January 8, 2020.
This position has traditionally been encumbered by a senior career diplomat of the U.S. Foreign Service. We have to go back all the way to 1973 to locate a political appointee to this position. Retired U.S. Army officer William Roscoe Kintner (1915–1997) who served during World War II and during the Korean conflict was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Thailand from November 29, 1973–March 15, 1975 under Presidents Nixon and Ford’s tenures. Since AFSA started tracking the ambassadorial appointments going back to 1960, only two political appointees made it to Thailand as chief of mission out of a total of 18 confirmed appointees (data as of 2016).
Ambassador-designate DeSombre’s predecessors at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok includes Career Ambassador Kristie Ann Kenney (1955–), five times ambassador John Gunther Dean (1926–); Career Ambassador Morton Isaac Abramowitz (1933–), and two times Ambassador Charles Sheldon Whitehouse (1926–2001), the father of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

His Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)  below via state.gov:

Michael George DeSombre is globally recognized as a preeminent authority on mergers and acquisitions and high profile negotiations.  A partner in the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell since 2004, Mr. DeSombre leads their mergers and acquisition practice in Asia where he has been resident for over 20 years.  His extensive representation of American and other international clients has honed his skills as a negotiator opposite Chinese and other Asian counterparties.  Mr. DeSombre is active in the region’s intellectual and philanthropic communities and deeply involved in the American community in Asia.  His keen understanding of Asia, extensive network of contacts and ability to bridge the legal, financial and policy worlds make him an excellent candidate for Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand.

Mr. DeSombre serves on the board of the Hong Kong Forum which seeks to promote the exchange of ideas between scholars and policymakers worldwide and to foster communication between the United States and China.  In addition, as Chairman of the Board of Save the Children Hong Kong since 2015, he has substantially grown and professionalized the organization.  He is a 19-year member of the American Club in Hong Kong and served on the Board of Governors for five years (the term limit).  He is an active supporter of the USA Rugby team and, as the Worldwide President of Republicans Overseas, Inc. since 2013, he refocused the organization to address key concerns for Americans overseas.

In 1990, Mr. DeSombre received a B.A. in Quantitative Economics and an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa scholar.  He graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude in 1995 and received the Reginald F. Lewis Prize in International Business Law. Mr. DeSombre is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and speaks some Korean and Japanese.

@MichaelDeSombre’s Twitter profile says “Republicans Overseas, Worldwide President.”
Big Law Business reported in August 2019 that “DeSombre, in his ethics agreement filed as part of the confirmation process, said he would resign from his posts in Republican organizations as well as his chairmanship of Save the Children Hong Kong Ltd., if he is confirmed.”
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SFRC Clears Sullivan For Moscow, Other Ambassador Nominations, Foreign Service Lists

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Congressional #Iran Briefing: Who Got Shushed, Who Got Mad

 

 

We’ve Only Just Biegun: Pompeo Swears-In New Deputy

Secretary Pompeo swore-in Stephen E. Biegun as Deputy Secretary of State on December 21, 2019. The State Department has posted his official bio on state.gov (see below). No word yet on when he will start on his new role as Acting Secretary of State (word on Twitterverse seems to be “when” not “if”). Without a nominee for Deputy Secretary for Management, it is likely that the new deputy secretary will be dual-hatted, unless, management has been delegated to Pompeo-pal and  Under Secretary for Management, Brian Bulatao.

On August 23, 2018, Secretary Pompeo appointed Stephen E. Biegun as the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, responsible for leading U.S. efforts to achieve President Trump’s goal of the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong Un at the Singapore summit. As Special Representative, on behalf of the Secretary of State he directed all U.S. policy on North Korea, led negotiations, and spearheaded U.S. diplomatic efforts with allies and partners.

Biegun has three decades of experience in government in the Executive and Legislative Branches, as well as in the private sector. Through his extensive career in foreign policy and business, he has excelled in tough negotiating settings. Most recently, Biegun was vice president of International Governmental Relations for Ford Motor Company, where—as a third generation Ford employee—he oversaw all aspects of Ford’s international governmental interactions including throughout the Indo-Pacific Region.

Previously, as national security advisor to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, he provided analysis and strategic planning for the U.S. Senate’s consideration of foreign policy, defense and intelligence matters, and international trade agreements. Prior to that, Biegun worked in the White House from 2001-2003 as Executive Secretary of the National Security Council. He served as a senior staff member to the National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and performed the function of chief operating officer for the National Security Council.

Before joining the White House staff, Biegun served for 14 years as a foreign policy advisor to members of both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. During this time, he held the position of Chief of Staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1999-2000. In addition, he served as a senior staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs for 6 years.

From 1992 to 1994, Biegun served in Moscow, Russia, as the Resident Director in the Russian Federation for the International Republican Institute, a democracy-building organization established under the National Endowment for Democracy.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1963, Biegun graduated from the University of Michigan where he studied Political Science and Russian Language. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has served on the boards of the National Bureau of Asian Research, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, the U.S.-Russia Foundation for Economic Development and the Rule of Law, and Freedom House.

Pompeo Gets Ratioed For Tweet of Er …Diverse Group of White Men on His Foreign Affairs Policy Board

So, typically, the more negative replies a tweet gets over likes or retweets, the worse it is. There’s even a word for it: #ratioed. Luke O’Neil  of Esquire explained The Ratio in an article titled “How to Know if You’ve Sent a Horrible Tweet.”
On December 16, the 70th secretary of state tweeted a photo of his Foreign Affairs Policy Board members, a collection of foreign policy advisors, all white men in a variety of smiles, ties, hairstyles, but no, not a diverse group as described on state.gov. The FAPB charter was most recently renewed in July 2019 according to the Federal register:

“The Foreign Affairs Policy Board provides the Secretary of State with advice, real-time feedback, and perspectives from outside leaders and innovators, in support of the Department formulation and execution of policy. It taps external expertise to provide advice and recommendations regarding critical challenges in the dynamic and competitive global environment in order to enhance the power and influence of American diplomacy.”

GSA’s Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) database includes a report for 2019 Current Fiscal Year Report: Foreign Affairs Policy Board with staff and per diem payments of $29,668.00 in current fiscal year, and expected payments of $47,000.00 for next fiscal year. The notation in the FACA database says:

“No formal reports have been produced for public distribution. Meetings are closed to the public due to the sensitive nature of discussions. Members of the Board have submitted materials for senior State Department officials eyes-only. In 2018, no official meetings of the Board took place. In FY2019, two meetings took place.”

Some informative points in this report via GSA which does not appear to be available on state.gov:

20a. How does the Committee accomplish its purpose?

The committee gathers to discuss major international issues and foreign policy challenges that the Secretary has chosen, based on the his belief that a diverse array of experienced outside voices can usefully support him as he works to address those specific challenges. Each meeting includes discussion on one or more topics that the Secretary has chosen, interaction with other senior Department officials, and an opportunity for the Board to provide perspectives and views developed and discussed during the meeting to the Secretary.

20b. How does the Committee balance its membership?

The members are distinguished figures from a range of backgrounds, including academia, NGOs, think tanks, business, and government–all of whom bring a unique perspective based on that background and long experience dealing with international issues from a range of perspectives. The selection of membership was in coordination with the Board’s Membership Balance Plan.

20c. How frequent and relevant are the Committee Meetings?

It is anticipated that the board will meet an estimated four times per year occurring approximately every 3-4 months.

20d. Why can’t the advice or information this committee provides be obtained elsewhere?

The committee is necessary to supplement the advice and support the Secretary gets from the Department with a broad range of diverse outside perspectives on major international issues.

20e. Why is it necessary to close and/or partially closed committee meetings?

The meetings must be closed because of the sensitive nature of discussed topics and materials, which are often classified.

Under most significant program outcomes associated with this committee? “Major policy changes” and “Others” were checked.
Under what other actions has the agency taken as a result of the committee’s advice or recommendation? Two radio buttons were checked: “Reorganized Priorities” and “Reallocated resources”.
Right.
Note that previous FAPB members from 2009-2017 were identified with official State Department bios; there were 5 female members out of 23 members.
Pompeo’s current FAPB members do not appear to be identified on the State Department website.  Their bios are also not available on state.gov. Nine appointees to the Board were identified in the 2019 FACA database; one female member and eight male appointees (also see below). All are classified as “Special Government Employee (SGE) Member.”
FAPB charter says that the Board is “comprised of no more than twenty-five members who have distinguished backgrounds in U.S. diplomacy, development and national security affairs.”
Members are appointed for 2 years or less, and with “the exception of travel and per diem for official travel, all Board members serve without compensation.”

 

From GSA Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Database: 2019 Current Fiscal Year Report: Foreign Affairs Policy Board                                   (click on image to see full document)

 

Later, Mr. Pompeo tweeted about convening the Board. No photo this time, and it’s not/not intended to clean up the previous tweet, silly!

But he’s yearning for Kansas, so his personal account tweeted another photo with a diversity of smiles. Enjoy!

#

 

U.S. Senate Confirms John Sullivan as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation

 

 

PN1232: John Joseph Sullivan, of Maryland, to be Ambassador to the Russian Federation
— By unanimous consent agreement, vote 12/11/2019.
— Cloture invoked in Senate by Yea-Nay Vote. 69 – 25. Record Vote Number: 392
— Considered by Senate.
— By unanimous consent agreement, debate and vote 12/12/2019.

 

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Report: Fringe Conspiracy Guy/Trump Official Joins @StateDept ‘One Team’ as Arms Control Senior Advisor

 

 The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify : T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Counselor, Department of State

The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report includes Section II, The President’s Obstruction of the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry. Item #4 is The President’s Refusal to Allow Top Aides to Testify.    One of the twelve current or former Administration officials named in the report for refusing to testify under the President’s direction is T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, the Counselor for the State Department. The counselor position at State is not a legal position despite its title. It is an “Under Secretary-level principal officer” position. The incumbent serves the “Secretary as a special advisor and consultant on major problems of foreign policy and who provides guidance to the appropriate bureaus with respect to such matters. The Counselor conducts special international negotiations and consultations, and also undertakes special assignments from time to time, as directed by the Secretary.”
Excerpt from report:
At President Trump’s direction, twelve current or former Administration officials refused to testify as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry, ten of whom did so in defiance of duly authorized subpoenas. The President’s orders were coordinated and executed by the White House Counsel and others, and they prevented testimony from officials from the White House, National Security Council, Office of Management and Budget, Department of State, and Department of Energy.
[…]
In following President Trump’s orders to defy duly authorized Congressional subpoenas, several Administration officials who, to date, remain under subpoena may have placed themselves at risk of being held in criminal contempt of Congress.209 These witnesses were warned explicitly that their refusal to obey lawful orders to testify “shall constitute evidence that may be used against you in a contempt proceeding” and could also result in adverse inferences being drawn against both them and the President.210
T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, Counselor, Department of State
(see PDF pp 241-243)

On September 13, the Committees sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking transcribed interviews with Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and other officials.271

The Committees received no direct, substantive response to this letter. On September 27, the Committees sent a letter informing Secretary Pompeo that Mr. Brechbuhl’s deposition was being scheduled on October 8, stating:

On September 13, the Committees wrote to request that you make State Department employees available for transcribed interviews. We asked you to provide, by September 20, dates by which the employees would be made available for transcribed interviews. You failed to comply with the Committees’ request.272

That same day, the Committees sent a letter directly to Mr. Brechbuhl seeking his appearance at a deposition on October 8.273

On October 1, Secretary Pompeo sent a letter to the Committees stating, “Based on the profound procedural and legal deficiencies noted above, the Committee’s requested dates for depositions are not feasible.”274

Later that day, the Committees sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan stating that the State Department “must immediately halt all efforts to interfere with the testimony of State Department witnesses before Congress.”275

On October 2, Mr. Brechbuhl’s personal attorney sent an email to Committee staff stating:

My law firm is in the process of being formally retained to assist Mr. Brechbuhl in connection with this matter. It will take us some time to complete those logistics, review the request and associated request for documents, and to meet with our client to insure he is appropriately prepared for any deposition. It will not be possible to accomplish those tasks before October 8, 2019. Thus, as I am sure that you can understand, Mr. Brechbuhl will not be able to appear on that date as he requires a sufficient opportunity to consult with counsel. Moreover, given the concerns expressed in Secretary Pompeo’s letter of October 1, 2019, to Chairman Engel, any participation in a deposition would need to be coordinated with our stakeholders.276

 

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IO’s Kevin Moley Accused of Political Retribution Finally Leaves the Building

 

Friday, November 29 was reportedly IO Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley’s effective date of retirement. Via AP:

A senior State Department official accused of carrying out political retribution against career diplomats deemed insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump has announced he is stepping down.

In a note sent to colleagues Friday, Kevin Moley said his “long-planned retirement” would take effect on Nov. 29, the date of his 50th wedding anniversary. Moley serves as the assistant secretary of state for International Organization Affairs.

“You have been great colleagues,” he wrote. “Keep up the fight.”

His four-sentence note made no mention of the controversy surrounding him and his former senior adviser Marie Stull.

As of this writing, Moley is no longer listed as IO’s assistant secretary but his bio is still up. on state.gov.  Two of the top bureau officials including the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Jonathan Moore and  DAS Joseph Manso are career FSOs, a third one is a career Civil Service Nerissa Cook, and the fourth, Kathy Wright joined the Department in 2018 following her tenure in the Office of the Majority Leader in the United States Senate as the Policy Advisor for Nominations.

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Why State/OIG Should Look Into Diplomatic Security’s Mina Chang Headache

 

NBC News did a follow up report on the Mina Change story it broke that lead to the resignation of the deputy assistant secretary of state at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Excerpt:

To secure her job at the State Department in April, Chang leveraged social connections to senior officials who could help open the doors to the administration, including Brian Bulatao, a close friend and deputy to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; a State Department official and former defense contractor who she succeeded as deputy assistant secretary, Pete Marocco; and a congressional staffer for key GOP lawmaker Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, multiple sources said. Marocco endorsed her for the job and McCaul wrote her a recommendation letter.
[…]
By the time Rep. McCaul issued the recommendation letter, Chang’s nomination was moving ahead thanks to her own contacts in the administration, said a spokesperson for the congressman, Kaylin Minton.
[..]
Chang lists just $12,000 in income before she took the State Department job and listed no salary from her charity. According to papers from her divorce case in 2011, she was due to receive nearly $1,400 a month in child support and $500 in alimony per month for a year from her ex-husband, a real estate developer. She lived in an affluent neighborhood in Dallas in a high-end apartment building, former colleagues and acquaintances said.

The updated NBC News piece also notes that “The State Department and its Diplomatic Security Service, which helps vet appointees, did not respond to requests for comment.”
Oh, dang!
State and DSS are probably hoping that this story will just go away now that she had submitted her resignation. But there is something in this story that is troubling.  If it was this easy for her to get this position despite the now revealed holes in her resume,  how many more are there in Foggy Bottom who were hired under similar circumstances? And how exactly did Diplomatic Security “missed” um …  a few things that reporters were able to easily dig up? Is this a case of Diplomatic Security “missing” a few things or a case of the security bureau being “responsive” to the 7th Floor?
Perhaps more importantly, if it was this easy to get around these “holes” and get a deputy assistant secretary position (which typically requires years and years of experience for career appointees), just how hard could it be for foreign intel services to do the same?
Now, we’re not suggesting that Diplomatic Security investigates itself on how this individual got through its security clearance process,  or see if the bureau has systemic holes in that process. We think State/OIG or a congressional panel with oversight authority should look into it.

 

Related posts:
State/CSO DAS Mina Chang Resigns After NBC News Asked About Newly Discovered False Claims;
Dear @StateDept, How Many More Mina Changs Do You Have?

USEU’s Amb Gordon Sondland Gets Portland Protesters (Plus Oath of Office Reading)

 

Official tweet below from @USAmbEU account shows that the protesters are not isolated in Portland;  there are also protesters and commenters online. As of this writing the following single tweet has almost 650 replies.