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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Senate Confirmation Fight in the Horizon Once Again? Tick-Tock

 

The 70th Secretary of State is now publicly pushing to have his senior officials confirmed by the Senate. When the Senators returns from their election break, they have less than 20 working days left for the year.  And it looks like judicial nominees are taking precedence. Tick-Tock.

Hey, just a few years ago, the 69th Secretary of State was looking to have his senior officials confirmed, too. And that was months before the mid-terms. One of the nominees, Cassandra Q. Butts even spent 835 days after she was nominated waiting for Senate confirmation; she died waiting. GOP Senators put a hold on the nomination unrelated to her qualification.

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Sen. Menendez Asks the Consular Affairs Nominee the Questions Y’All Wanna Ask

Posted: 1:26 pm PT
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The Trump nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday (see July 18 SFRC Hearing: Carl Risch to be Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs). There were four nominees during the hour and a half hearing chaired by Senator Ron Johnson, so basically 22.5 minutes for each nominee although the CT and CA nominees got most of the more substantial questions.

(click image to see the video)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) reminded Mr. Risch of his old congressional testimony advocating for the transfer of visa function to DHS in 2002 (see Ex-FSO Who Once Advocated Moving Visas to DHS May be the Next Asst Secretary For Consular Affairs). The exchange between Menendez and Risch starts at 00:45:50 via C-SPAN video here.

Senator Menendez started by congratulating all the nominees then quoted from Mr. Risch’s old testimony: “Congratulations to all of you. Mr. Risch in 2007 you appeared before the House Subcommittee on Government Reform. In a hearing, you said during my tenure as unit chief I adjudicated approximately 25,000 visa applications. I resigned in May of 2002 even though I received top evaluation and a challenging assignment. While I longed to return to my private practice, I was discouraged by the State Department’s lack of dedication to the enforcement of laws. I took my job very seriously. The State Department did not.”

Senator Menendez then asked: “Do you believe the State Department isn’t  committed to rule of law and national security of the United States?”

Mr. Risch’s response:

“Thank you senator, for the question and for the opportunity to address that testimony. The testimony was in 2002, not in 2007. It was 15 years ago that that testimony took place. It was during the time that the Department of Homeland Security was just being stood up. I believe a lot has changed at the State Department in 15 years. I’m enthusiastic about the future the way the bureau will be fulfilling its function with interagency cooperation, continuous vetting.”

Senator Menendez did not let him off the hook and asked again, “Do you believe the State Department is committed to the rule of law and the national security of the United States?”

Mr. Risch responded, Currently senator, I absolutely do.”

The NJ senator started talking about refugee and migration issues then asked Mr. Risch, “So do you believe that the Department of Homeland Security, which is notoriously bloated with a whole host of dysfunctional components, should be responsible still to have the visa, the very essence of the department you’re being nominated to, to be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security?”

Mr. Risch’s response:

“Well, 15 years ago, senator, I stand behind my testimony. It was a completely different time. And there were a lot of talk about consolidating different things into the Department of Homeland Security. Currently, I watched the Deputy Secretary testify yesterday that it’s currently not the intent of the Department of State —”

This is in reference to Deputy Secretary Sullivan’s testimony from Monday, at the same panel, about State not having an intention to transfer the consular function to DHS.  Senator Menendez cut him off saying “I’m not asking what their intent, I’m asking your view. You’re nominated for this position.”

This is Mr. Risch’s response:

“My view is I would … I follow the leadership of Department of State if confirmed. But as of today, I intend to lead the Bureau of Consular Affairs as it is currently formed. I believe that I will be, if confirmed a strong leader of all functions of the consular bureau including the visa function.” 

 

 

 

There’s something about Mr. Risch’s response that’s not very comforting to our ears. You, too? Maybe it’s the use of the word “currently” as “at the present time,” as in “now.” Maybe, that’s just his favorite word. Maybe it indicates that he does not have a solid view about a U.S. Government agency’s commitment to the rule of law and national security of this country.

To the question about his belief whether the State Department is committed to the rule of law and national security of the United States, Mr. Risch responded with “I absolutely do,” but he prefaced that response with “currently.” He used the same word when talking about the intent of the State Department, and in describing the bureau he is nominated to lead.

The use of the word “currently” implies that things might change. Does he know something we don’t? What he believes now, may not be what he believes next month, or next year. If the White House decides to move the visa function to DHS, and the State Department’s intent changes, Mr. Risch will “follow the leadership” at State. Then he will be back in the Senate to explain, “Currently, the State Department believe it is best to …”

For what it’s worth, we asked somebody who previously worked with Mr. Risch at an overseas post and the one feedback we got though brief was complimentary.

Mr. Risch’s prepared testimony is available here (pdf).

If confirmed, Mr. Risch would succeed career diplomat Michele Thoren Bond who served as Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs from 2015-2017.

Below is a brief summary of the position and the previous appointees to this office via history.state.gov:

Assistant Secretaries of State for Consular Affairs

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs.” From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

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