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State watchdog finds Susan Pompeo traveled without proper certification

State watchdog finds Susan Pompeo traveled without proper certification
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The State Department’s watchdog on Thursday released a report that found travel by Susan Pompeo, who is married to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows - Biden foreign policy in focus Pompeo defends Trump on Russia in Chris Wallace interview Pompeo: Decline of free speech on college campuses keeps me up at night MORE, failed to receive the proper certifications on numerous occasions.

The investigation was initiated by a whistleblower complaint in October 2019 but is part of a larger controversy surrounding the role of Susan Pompeo and alleged efforts by the secretary to disrupt investigations by the inspector general.

Two acting inspector generals, Stephen Akard and Matthew Klimow, recused themselves from the review of Susan Pompeo’s travel and the report was completed by Deputy Inspector General Diana Shaw, who took over the investigation amid a shakeup in the Office of Inspector General (OIG). 

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Pompeo engineered the ousting of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick in May, sparking an investigation by House and Senate Democrats over alleged political retaliation in an effort to block the investigation into his wife’s dealings at the department.

Scrutiny over Susan Pompeo’s role at State has drawn criticism that the Pompeos are laying the groundwork for future political ambitions at the cost of the American taxpayer. The secretary, a former Kansas lawmaker, is considered a potential candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. 

The report released Thursday said that justifications for Susan Pompeo’s eight trips abroad with the secretary between April 2018 and April 2020 were documented by State Department officials as “representational travel” — a designation that would not require the Pompeos to reimburse expenses.

Yet the report noted that Susan Pompeo failed to receive written approval for six of the eight trips, with four receiving verbal approval from Under Secretary Of State for Management Brian Bulatao, and no approval in at least two of the trips. 

Bulatao, who was confirmed by the Senate for his post in May 2019, is a close ally of the Pompeos. The secretary has referred to Bulatao as one of his “best friends in the whole world” and their friendship stretches back to their time as cadets at West Point. They were business partners in Kansas before Pompeo became CIA director and then secretary of State. 

In response to the OIG report, Counselor of the Department T. Ulrich Brechbuhl questioned why the OIG “wasted its time” on the review of Susan Pompeo’s travel and downplayed the recommendations — to ensure written approval and documentation for travel by any family member of the secretary — as a “purely administrative matters” that did not require a formal report. 

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Brechbuhl is also a close ally of Pompeo, and was business partners with the secretary and Bulatao in Kansas in the 1990s. 

The OIG pushed back on Brechbuhl’s criticism, saying “this suggestion fundamentally misunderstands the independent role of OIG and our statutory oversight responsibilities.”

The Inspector General’s report notes that Department policies prohibit the secretary from authorizing representational travel for the official’s own family members because it is a conflict of their own financial interest. 

“In this case, Mrs. Pompeo’s financial interest, (i.e., what portion of the expenses related to travel would be paid from personal funds or by the government), would be imputed to the Secretary,” the report notes. 

Bulatao told the OIG that he provided verbal approval for four trips but could not provide any documentation showing that he had met with the State officials that provided the justification for Susan Pompeo’s travel. 

Further, Bulatao in August told the OIG that he was not aware of the proper procedure and State Department policies governing authorizations for travel for family members of agency officials. 

“In an August 2020 interview, the Under Secretary told OIG that he was never provided any guidance that he was required to document his approval or sign a justification statement. Similarly, there was no documentation that the Office of the Legal Adviser or the relevant regional bureau were consulted about these trips,” the report noted. 

The OIG documented that there was no record of approval for Susan Pompeo to accompany the secretary on a September 2018 trip to New York City and to Brazil and Columbia in December 2018 and January 2019.

There were no records of approval for a trip between May and June 2019 that went to Europe and a July and August trip to Asia and Australia. 

Susan Pompeo further traveled without approval in October 2019 to Italy and Greece and in February 2020 to Germany, Africa and the Middle East. 

The State Department offered agreement with the recommendations laid out by the OIG to fulfill obligations for proper documentation of travel approval. 

Not covered in the OIG’s report was whether Susan Pompeo received approval to accompany her husband on a 10-day trip last month to France, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.