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:

@StateDept Skirts Thresholds in Arms Transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE, Avoids Congressional Notifications

 

On August 10, a Senior State Department official held an on-background briefing on State/OIG’s  still unreleased report of the May 2019 Emergency Certification for Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Jordan.
The State Department also released a statement Inspector General Confirms No Wrongdoing in Emergency Arms Sales to Counter Iran, The Secretary’s “Emergency Certification Was Properly Executed” and “Complied with the Requirements” of Law.
The cover memo to Pol-Mil that accompanied the IG report dated August 10 says that “OIG will distribute a copy of this report to Congress and post a redacted version of this report on OIG’s public website within 2 business days.” Then the agency basically Bill Barred the IG report, putting a fine spin on the IG report, most likely expecting a couple of days of most favorable headlines.
State/OIG posted the report online on Tuesday, August 11. But nice try by Foggy Bottom’s spin-doctors. Now folks got to read the actual report though a redacted one. The IG report says that “In a memorandum dated July 27, 2020, the Department asserted that its requested redactions were necessary to protect executive branch confidentiality interests and, further, stated its position that the Secretary “has the authority to direct the OIG not to disclose privileged information, and the Department may do so without any final assertion of executive privilege.”
Well, not only redactions from the public report, but a more extensive redactions from the classified report that they also want to withhold from the Congress:

“On August 5, 2020, the Department provided its redactions to OIG’s report. Although the Department withheld relatively little information in the unclassified portion of the report,4 it withheld significant information in the classified annex necessary to understand OIG’s finding and recommendation.”
[…]
“Department asserted that the redactions made to the classified annex should be withheld from Congress because the underlying information implicates “executive branch confidentiality interests, including executive privilege.”

But see, if the State Department could assert any redaction for State/OIG’s work products, including in the classified annex to be withheld from Congress, what’s to keep Pompeo from asserting the same thing over IG investigations related to him, his wife, or any other senior officials?
It’s high time for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to go in and take a look at the State Department given the circumstances of the Linick firing, the abrupt resignations of the acting State OIG, as well as the dismissal of other IGs in multiple agencies. Starting with the State Department, CIGIE can then “address the integrity, economy, and effectiveness issues that transcend individual Government agencies.”
Summary of Review of Arms Transfers

“In response to congressional requests, OIG reviewed the Department of State’s (Department) role in arms transfers to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the Secretary’s May 2019 certification that an emergency existed under Section 36 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). 2 The Secretary’s emergency certification3 waived congressional review requirements for 22 arms transfer cases to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,4 with a total value of approximately $8.1 billion. Congress had previously placed holds5 on 15 of the 22 arms transfer cases included in the May 2019 emergency certification. At the time the Secretary certified the emergency, 6 of the 15 cases had been held by Congress for more than a year. The held cases included at least $3.8 billion in precision-guided munitions (PGMs) 6 and related transfers. In explaining the decision to place the holds, members of Congress cited concerns about the actions of the Saudi-led Coalition (Coalition)7 in Yemen since 2015, including high rates of civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes employing U.S.- supplied PGMs.

For this review, OIG examined the process and timeline associated with the Secretary’s May 2019 use of emergency authorities contained in the AECA. OIG also evaluated the Department’s implementation of measures designed to reduce the risk of civilian harm caused by Saudi-led Coalition military operations in Yemen and analyzed Department processes for reviewing arms transfers that do not require notification to Congress. 8 The AECA affords the President or Secretary considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an emergency. Moreover, the AECA does not define the term “emergency.” Accordingly, OIG did not evaluate whether the Iranian malign threats cited in the Secretary’s May 2019 certification and associated memorandum of justification constituted an emergency, nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency.

OIG determined that the Secretary’s emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA. However, OIG also found that the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGMs included in the May 2019 emergency certification.9 In addition, OIG found the Department regularly approved arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress. These approvals included items such as PGM components on which Congress had placed holds in cases where the transfers reached the thresholds requiring congressional notification. However, the AECA does not require the Department to notify Congress if it approves transactions below those thresholds specified in the law. OIG issued one recommendation to the Department in a classified annex10 that accompanies this report.”

Wait, the “emergency certification was executed in accordance with the requirements of the AECA” but the OIG made no evaluation whether it was an emergency?  So, that’s something. Was this the same position taken by the former IG Steve Linick?
Per footnote:

Sections 36(b)(1), 36(c)(1), and 36(d)(1) of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2776) specify the types of arms transfers that must be notified to Congress. For example, transfers to countries other than NATO members, Japan, Australia, the Republic of Korea, Israel, or New Zealand of major defense equipment in excess of $14 million and non-major defense equipment in excess of $50 million must be notified to Congress.

4,221 Below-Threshold Arms Transfers Estimated at $11.2 Billion

OIG reviewed Department records on approved arms transfer cases involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that fell below the AECA thresholds that trigger notification to Congress.41 The records show the Department approved a total of 4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2 billion since January 2017. Components of PGMs were among the below-threshold transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates approved during this period. Although the Department approved below-threshold transfers of PGM components as early as January 2017, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security notified the Secretary in 2018 and 2019 that the Department intended to proceed with additional below-threshold approvals notwithstanding congressional holds on larger, above-threshold transfers of similar items.

So basically, the State Department did separate below threshold arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and UAE and avoided the required congressional notifications. Apparently, it will continue to do so despite congressional holds on similar items.
Looks like the State Department is daring Congress to do something about this. Here’s Pompeo also touting full “vindication.”

Also on August 11, Politico’s tireless reporter Nahal Toosi covering the State Department published a copy of the same OIG report, unredacted.
The unredacted document is posted here labeled in red “FOR INTERNAL U.S. GOVERNMENT/COMMITTEE USE ONLY – NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE MAY NOT BE FURTHER DISCLOSED WITHOUT CONSENT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE.  Wow! Now you can see which part of the public report, the State Department asserted the public should not see (it has to do with the timeline of the emergency declaration and the bureau involved. And oh, money, money, money).

Pompeo’s @StateDept Office – Oh, My! Warning Red in All Categories #BestPlacestoWorkNot

 

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) recently published a report looking into the firing of former State OIG Steve Linick (see Watchdog Firing Came Amid Probe of Trump’s Friend, the U.S. Ambassador in London). Excerpt below:

In Senate testimony on July 30, Pompeo gave a new reason for the firing, claiming there was dismal employee morale in the inspector general’s office under Linick’s watch. Of “38 assistant secretary level bureaus,” Pompeo said, “the IG’s office was the worst survey results of any of those 38.”

But an examination of the data shows a strikingly different picture.

The department’s Office of Inspector General in fact had the third-highest engagement score of any State subcomponent in 2019, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s analysis of Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey data from 2019, the most recent publicly available.

Instead, it was Pompeo’s office—the Office of Secretary of State—that had the lowest employee engagement score of any State Department subcomponent in the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” list. Indeed, it ranked near the bottom government-wide, 404th out of 420 federal subcomponents.

So we went and took a look. Within State Department sub-components, the top three highest engagement scores per Partnership for Public Service:

Within State Department sub-components, the three bottom ranked offices with the lowest engagements scores per Partnership for Public Service:
The data includes a total of 24 State Department subcomponents out of 420. Click on the screen caps below to see a larger view. Don’t skip the categories. Click here to see the original data from the Partnership for Public Service.
How soon before the State Department releases its own survey to show that the Office of the Secretary has the best survey results?

Belarus’ Lukashenko in Power Since 1994 Claims Landslide Election Victory, Spawns Widespread Protests

 

Maximum Pressure Season 3 Gets a Dual-Hatted Special Rep Elliot Abrams For Venezuela AND Iran

Pompeo’s remarks on the departure of Brian Hooks says that “he has achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime.” Historic results  does not mean successful, does it? Why else would they need Elliot Abrams to be the new Special Representative for Iran?  Or the former Iran Rep has done such a historic job his replacement only needs to do the job at half time, as Abrams spend the other half exerting maximum pressure on Venezuela?
What the bananas is even happening?
State Department bench these days must be really thin, why else would these senior diplomats be doing two-three jobs at any given time? But perhaps it’s not State that has a thin bench but Pompeo’s in group that has a thin bench. And with folks bailing out these days (Akard, Hook, who else?), how soon before Foggy Bottom’s upper echelon starts looking like a ghost town?
Pardon me? Not soon enough? Well, okay, let’s keep our ears to the ground.
It’s that time of year when burrowing feds come into fashion. In 2016, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee were excited to ferret out political appointees who slip into career positions in the federal government. They must be just as excited now.
Related posts:

Maximum Pressure Season 2 Ends With Iran Special Rep Brian Hook Walking Off Into the Sunset

 

Related posts:

 

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:

U.S. Ambassadors in the News: Iceland, United Kingdom, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, South Korea

ICELAND

UNITED KINGDOM

ESWATINI (SWAZILAND)

ZIMBABWE

SOUTH KOREA

 

Nominee For Peru Ambassadorship Lisa Kenna Gets a Late Thunderbolt

 

Via Politico:
Lisa Kenna, Pompeo’s executive secretary — a gatekeeper of sorts to his office — told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she was unaware of the substance of Giuliani’s outreach at the time, but now knows it was an effort to discredit Yovanovitch. Giuliani made calls and delivered documents to Pompeo that came from Ukrainian figures viewed as corrupt by the State Department.
“At the time, I did not know what the documents were about. It’s deeply disturbing,” said Kenna, who is being vetted by the committee for the ambassadorship to Peru.
Ms. Kenna’s prepared testimony for the SFRC is available to read here.

Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Michael Evanoff Resigns

 

WaPo’s John Hudson is reporting that DS Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Michael T. Evanoff has informed DS employees of his resignation with an expected departure next week. He reportedly has a new job at a “multinational company.  Mr. Evanoff who was a career special agent in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security from 1985 to 2011 was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security (DS) on November 3, 2017. Prior to his return to State in 2017, he was the Vice President for Asset Protection & Security for Walmart International, Inc. in Arkansas. He also previously served as Chief Security Officer at Coca-Cola HBC, in Zug, Switzerland and Athens, Greece, and as Global Director of Security at Och-Ziff Capital Management Group in New York.
This is the top security position at State so we hope a new nominee is announced and confirmed quickly but it is also likely that we may not see a new nominee until next year.  When DS appointee David Gordon Carpenter’s appointment ended in June 29, 2002, his successor, Francis Xavier Taylor  did not assume charge until November 18, 2002. Similarly, when DS appointee Richard J. Griffin‘s ended his appointment on November 1, 2007, his successor, career appointee Eric J. Boswell did not assume charge until July 8, 2008.
Traditionally, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) who is also the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) assumes charge of the bureau in an acting capacity. That would be Todd J. Brown who has been in the bureau’s number two position since March 2018. However, given the appointment practices in this administration, we’ll have to wait and see who will actually becomes interim bureau head. We should note that despite the proliferation of political appointees in Foggy Bottom, DS is one bureau where the top leadership ranks are career officials (or former career officials). 

Michael T. Evanoff