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:

For Foreign Diplomats, Trump WashingtonDC Hotel Is the Place To Be

Posted: 12:25 am ET
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For those interested in the subject of conflicts of interest and the presidency, here is a good read from the Congressional Research Service:

Does federal law require the President to relinquish control of his or her business interests? Federal regulation of financial conflicts of interest is aimed at preventing opportunities for officials to personally benefit from influence they may have in their official capacity. As a general rule, public officials in the executive branch are subject to criminal penalties if they personally and substantially participate in matters in which they (or their immediate families, business partners or associated organizations) hold financial interests. However, because of concerns regarding interference with the exercise of constitutional duties, Congress has not applied these restrictions to the President. Consequently, there is no current legal requirement that would compel the President to relinquish financial interests because of a conflict of interest.

Read more:

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State/OIG to Review Use of Special Government Employees (SGE), Conflicts of Interest Safeguards

Posted: 2:20 am EDT
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Back in 2013, we blogged about the State Department Special Government Employees:  Who Are the State Dept’s 100 “Special Government Employees”? Dunno But Is Non-Disclosure For Public Good? and this: State Dept refused to name its SGEs because of reasons #1, #2, #3, #4 and … oh right, the Privacy Act of 1974:

At that time, there was a message from Mission Command:

“Good morning, Mr. Hunt (or whoever is available). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the retrieval of all Special Government Employee (SGE) names. There are more than a hundred names but no one knows how many more.  They are padlocked in the Privacy Act of 1974 vault, guarded by a monstrous fire-breathing creature from Asia Minor. PA1974 vault location is currently in Foggy Bottom.  As always, should you or any member of your team be caught or killed, everybody with a badge will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.  If not, well, find a match and burn.”

Teh-heh!

In January 2014, without Mr. Hunt, the State Department finally released its SGE list as reported by ProPublica here . ProPublica  concluded then that “the list suggests that the status is mostly used for its intended purpose: to allow outside experts to consult or work for the government on a temporary basis.” Which makes one wonder why it wasn’t readily released in the first place.

The recent Clinton email debacle, revived interest on Secretary Clinton’s use of the SGE program that allowed some political allies to work for the government while pursuing private-sector careers. In March, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who heads the Judiciary Committee was on it.

Via WaPo:

“The public’s business ought to be public with few exceptions,” Grassley said in a statement Saturday. “When employees are allowed to serve the government and the private sector at the same time and use private email, the employees have access to everything and the public, nothing.”

Senator Grassley’s request to the State Department, apparently not yet answered, is available here.

Last week, Senator Grassley received confirmation that the State Department Office of Inspector General will review the department’s use of the Special Government Employee program. Below is part of Senator Grassley’s statement:

“This program is meant to be used in a limited way to give the government special expertise it can’t get otherwise,” Grassley said.  “Is the program working the way it’s intended at the State Department or has it been turned on its head and used in ways completely unrelated to its purpose?   An independent analysis will help to answer the question.  An inspector general review is necessary. Available information suggests that in at least one case, the State Department gave the special status for employee convenience, not public benefit.”

In response to Grassley’s request, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick confirmed his office “intends to examine the Department’s SGE program to determine if it conforms to applicable legal and policy requirements, including whether or not the program, as implemented, includes safeguards against conflicts of interest.”

Grassley is concerned about potential conflicts of interest arising from a top State Department employee, Huma Abedin, who worked for both the government as a Special Government Employee and an outside firm, Teneo, at the same time.

More about Ms Abedin’s consulting work here.  Senator Grassley’s request to IG Linick is available here.  IG Linick’s response to Senator Grassley is available here.

You get the feeling that State/OIG is the most wanted office in WashDC these days?

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