HFAC Chairman Calls Out @StateDept For ‘Temper Tantrum’ Over Canceled Hill Briefings

 

Former Congressman Mike Pompeo Rejects Congressional Subpoenas

 

 

 

Foggy Bottom’s ‘Pot Meet Kettle’ Happy Hour #PleaseScreamInsideYourHeart

 

HFAC Seeks @StateDept Documents on Possible Surveillance of Amb Yovanovitch

 

 

Delayed Report Over Retaliation Against @StateDept Career Staffers Heats Up

 

In September 2018, we blogged about State/OIG and the Office of Special Counsel looking into political reprisals at the State Department (See State/OIG and OSC Reportedly Looking Into Political Reprisals @StateDept); Office of Special Counsel on Political Inquiries/Political Discrimination During Reassignments).
Via Politico:

The probe is expected to cover a wide array of suspected mistreatment of Foreign Service and Civil Service officers by Trump political appointees. The majority of the alleged improprieties are thought to have occurred under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but the accused include some political appointees who also served under Pompeo.

Among the allegations: that a political appointee made loyalty lists of career staffers she considered supportive or unsupportive of Trump; that numerous career employees, including high-ranking ones, were given low-level duties processing Freedom of Information Act requests to punish them for work they did under former President Barack Obama; and that one career staffer’s assignment to a top policy post was cut short because of her Iranian ancestry and her work on the Iran nuclear deal.

Revelations that outside conservative figures, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, may have played a role in targeting career staffers have fueled the anticipation of Linick’s findings.

Originally, one major report was expected, but Linick has said he decided to split it into two. The first will cover dysfunction in the State bureau that deals with international organizations. The second will cover the actions of top officials who report directly to the secretary.

We’ve asked State/OIG about this and here’s what the office told us:
“We submitted the draft report to the Department in July. As is always the case, we have given the Department the opportunity to submit a response to the report, and the Department has informed us that it wishes to do so. We have granted the Department’s request for two extensions for this report, and its response is due this week. We regularly grant extensions because, if at all possible, we believe that it is important to have the Department’s response to our conclusions. We anticipate publishing the report this month.”

 

Rex Tillerson Talks to Congress About the Not So Shadow Secretary of State, and Stuff

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Congress Demands Pompeo Turn Over Documents on Political Targeting of @StateDept Employees

 

On March 15, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Senator Bob Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations “denounced the State Department’s attempts to obstruct investigations into reports of politically-motivated retaliation against career Department employees.”

In a letter to Secretary Pompeo, they demanded that “the Department comply with past Congressional requests for information on this matter, stretching back over the past year.”

“To date, despite three specific requests and multiple follow-up efforts by our offices, the Department has failed to respond to our requests for interviews or provide any responsive records. After nearly a year, it suggests the State Department is stonewalling a legitimate congressional request for information on matters that are squarely within our Committees’ oversight jurisdiction. We are therefore restating our demand for a response to our prior queries on this matter and are prepared to use appropriate tools at our disposal to prompt a substantive response.”

The congressional demand requires that the Department submit all documents requested by March 21 and facilitate Committee interviews with Department officials implicated in this matter by April 30.

Among the items requested:

(1) all documents and communications referring or relating to any reassignment or proposed reassignment that was considered or ordered since January 20, 2017, of career or civil service employees at the Department;

(2) all documents and communications referring or relating to any proposed or actual reassignment or removal of career or civil service employees at the Department since January 20, 2017, based on alleged personal political beliefs, prior service with previous Administrations, or work on prior Administrations’ foreign policy priorities, including any documents authored by, copying, involving, or referring to:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers; or

(h) Margaret Peterlin; and

(3) all documents and communications referring or relating to proposed or actual personnel actions since January 20, 2017, against Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, including the curtailment of her detail to the Policy Planning staff.

The congressional request also notes:

“To the extent that the Department may have been relying on a legal theory that our requests somehow lapsed at the end of the 115th Congress, we write today to dispense with that argument and hereby formally restate our prior requests.”

The congressional request asks for transcribed interviews with the following individuals.

A schedule of availability for the Committees to conduct transcribed interviews with each of the following individuals, with the first interview to be conducted no later than April 1, 2019, and with all interviews to be conducted no later than April 30, 2019:

(a) Christine Ciccone;

(b) Makan Delrahim;

(c) Sean Doocey;

(d) Julia Haller;

(e) Brian Hook;

(f) Edward Lacey;

(g) Matthew Mowers;

(h) Margaret Peterlin;

(i) Andrew Veprek;

(j) John Zadrozny; and

(k) Kevin Moley

This request has been overgrown with grass;  some of those they want to interview are no longer in Foggy Bottom. It looks like Congress sent their first request on March 15, 2018, two days after Tillerson was fired in a tweet. The full statement from Rep. Engel and Senator Menendez is available here. The letter to Secretary Pompeo is here.

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Pompeo on @StateDept: What They Needed Wasn’t More Money, What They Needed Was a Leader Who … Who’s That?

The Trump budget proposal for the FY2020 State Department funding is now out. HFAC already called the proposal which includes a 23% cut ‘dead on arrival” on Capitol Hill. Even if this request doesn’t pass, it clearly reflects the administration’s views on diplomacy and development. If a Foggy Bottom joker starts calling prior State Department funding levels unsustainable, we may fall off our chair and scream out loud. The Administration’s budget request for DOD was $686.1 billion in FY2019 and $750 billion in FY2020. And $750 billion is sustainable? Anyway, brief run-down of the budget requests in the last few years:

FY2017:  The FY2017 budget request under the Obama Administration amounted in $52.78 billion in new budget authority for the State Department, Foreign Operations, and Related Appropriations (SFOPS). When Congress passed the appropriations bill, the  total enacted SFOPS funding for FY2017 was $57.53 billion, an 8.8% increase over the FY2016 SFOPS funding level. According to the CRS, the increase is entirely due to a 40% total increase in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.

FY2018: President Trump submitted his FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 23, 2017. The request sought $40.25 billion (-30% compared with FY2017 enacted) for SFOPS, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds. The 115th Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, which provided FY2018 funding for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). Division K of the act―State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS)― provided a total of $54.18 billion, including Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds and rescissions. This represented a decrease of 6.1% from the FY2017 actual funding level according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

FY2019: The Trump Administration submitted to Congress its FY2019 budget request on February 12, 2018. The State Department budget proposal under Rex Tillerson included $41.86 billion for the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS). CRS notes: Comparing the request with the FY2018-enacted funding levels, the FY2019 request represents a 22.7% decrease in SFOPS funding. The proposed State and related agency funding would be 18.2% below FY2018 enacted and the foreign operations funding would be reduced by 24.7%. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have approved FY2019 SFOPS bills that include funding at higher levels than the Administration requested and equal to or greater than FY2018 enacted funding. Congress eventually appropriated $56.1 billion, ensuring that the agency has the resources it needs.

FY2020: Trump’s FY2020 budget request for the State Department, the first under Pompeo, proposes $40 billion for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). State’s Bureau of Budget and Planning guy Doug Pitkin said, “the last two budgets, for example, included reductions to State and AID personnel. This budget does not propose that.” He also argued that despite the almost 25% cut, this  budget request apparently “does support diplomacy and development”.

All that to highlight what Secretary Pompeo said in an interview recently. Secretary Pompeo  (who we imagine is known …er fondly in Foggy Bottom as Swagger Mike) gave an interview to McClatchy’s Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle on March 11. We must admit that since this was an interview, we certainly could not blame his speechwriters for the gems here. Neither the video nor the transcript of this interview appears on state.gov, as of this writing but the reporters have a short video clip which we embedded below, and you can read the report with the quotes here.

“I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Pompeo said. “It always has. President Trump has ensured that it has. And we’ll get to where we’ll need to be.”

 

 

“The people at the State department understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said.

 

“What they needed wasn’t more money,” he said. “What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”

“When I talked about swagger it was about going out in the world and having the confidence that as an American diplomat you represent the greatest nation in the history of civilization,” he said.

“That’s what the people of the State Department want and need. We’re giving it to them in spades. They’re responding to it wonderfully. We’re doing wonderful work all around the world.”

DHS/OIG Recommends Disciplinary Action For Ex-Deputy COS Christine Ciccone For Failure to Cooperate With State/OIG Review

Posted: 3:11 am EST

 

On February 13, 2019, Acting DHS/OIG John V. Kelly wrote a memo to DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen concerning DHS Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Christine Ciccone’s “failure to cooperate with Inspector General review.” Prior to moving to DHS, Ms. Ciccone served as deputy chief of staff to then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (also see Tillerson’s Redesign Chief Leaves Office After Three Months, Meet the New Redesigner-in-ChiefRex Tillerson’s Inner Circle Photo Album, Say Cheese Con Quezo!

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, joined by U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, left, and Deputy Chief of Staff Christine Ciccone, prepare for a meeting with U.S./Alaska Permanent Participants to the Arctic Council in Fairbanks, Alaska, on May 10, 2017. [U.S. Air Force photo / Public Domain]

DHS/OIG Kelly also formally recommended that Secretary Nielsen “take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone for failing to cooperate with an Inspector General review.” Excerpt from memo:

Beginning in September 2018, our colleagues at the Department of State Office of Inspector General (State OIG) have been attempting to interview Ms. Ciccone. At the request of several congressional committees,1 State OIG is reviewing allegations of prohibited personnel practices that occurred while Ms. Ciccone was the State Department’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Ms. Ciccone is a key witness in State OIG’s review; however, she has been unwilling to schedule an interview despite repeated requests made to both her and her attorney over many months.
[…]
Pursuant to the Inspector General Act (IG Act), we have assisted State OIG in attempting to schedule an interview with Ms. Ciccone and have enlisted Acting Deputy Secretary Grady in our efforts. We very much appreciate the Deputy Secretary’s assistance and her instruction to Ms. Ciccone that she must participate in the interview. However, as of today, Ms. Ciconne has not scheduled a time to meet with State OIG staff. On Monday February 11, 2019, staff from State OIG, along with DHS OIG Deputy Inspector General Jennifer Costello, met with congressional staff to inform them of Ms. Ciccone’s failure to cooperate.
[…]
DHS has implemented the requirements of the Act in DHS Management Directive 0810.1, which in part states that DHS employees will be subject to disciplinary action if they refuse to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by the OIG. Ms. Ciccone’s handling of this situation is not consistent with her obligations as an employee under this directive. Further, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to comply with State OIG’s request for an interview sets a dangerous precedent contrary to the fundamental tenants of the IG Act, with the potential to undermine our critical oversight function. Therefore, I recommend that you take appropriate disciplinary action against Ms. Ciccone under Management Directive 0810.1.

The HFAC statement notes that this review relates to the “ongoing State Department Office of Inspector General review of allegations of politically-motivated retaliation against career State Department employees.”

The HFAC statement provides a background:

  • Multiple whistleblowers have contacted our Committees to call attention to allegations of politically-motivated personnel actions during Ms. Ciccone’s tenure as Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department.  Chairman Cummings, Chairman Engel, and Ranking Member Menendez reported these practices to State OIG in multiple letters in 2018, as well as in letters to and hearings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • State OIG opened a review of politically-motivated personnel practices in response to congressional requests.
  • During the pendency of the Inspector General’s review, Ms. Ciccone left the State Department to join the Department of Homeland Security as the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.  Though she left her position at the State Department, she remains in federal service and is obligated to cooperate with the Inspector General’s inquiry, per the terms of her home agency’s management directive requiring that all agency employees fully cooperate with OIG reviews.
  • On February 11, 2019, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee received a briefing from State OIG regarding Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to State OIG’s interview requests.  State OIG stated that it was in possession of documentary evidence demonstrating Ms. Ciccone’s involvement in personnel actions against at least three career employees, but was unable to complete its review without Ms. Ciccone’s interview. State OIG noted that given her senior position, Ms. Ciccone’s refusal to submit to an interview was “unprecedented.”

According to the a DHS Directive, employees  will —

— be subject to criminal prosecution and disciplinary action, up to and including removal, for knowingly and willfully furnishing false or misleading information to investigating officials;

— be subject to disciplinary action for refusing to provide documents or information or to answer questions posed by investigating officials or to provide a signed sworn statement if requested by the OIG, unless questioned as the subject of an investigation that can lead to criminal prosecution.

What should be most interesting to see is how DHS and Congress will deal with this case. It would send a signal to the rest of the bureaucracy how serious they are in their support of government oversight, and whether or not there are real consequences for failure to cooperate with Inspector General reviews.

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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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