Pompeo draws criticism for convention speech from Jerusalem
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expected speech on Tuesday to the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem is drawing criticism for using official diplomatic travel to make a political statement in a presidential election year.
Critics say there’s little to no distinction between Pompeo delivering his remarks in a personal capacity, apart from his position as secretary, and that such an overtly political view abandons the tradition of keeping the State Department nonpartisan.
They further accuse the secretary of violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from taking part in political activity while on official duty and exploiting Jerusalem, a city sacred to three of the world’s monotheistic religions, for partisan political gain.
At least four teams of lawyers cleared the secretary to make the personal speech, McClatchy reported, including Pompeo’s personal lawyer, the State Department legal counsel, Republican National Convention lawyers and White House lawyers.
A State Department spokesperson said no agency resources would go toward the secretary’s remarks and that no staff are involved in preparing the speech or in the arrangements of Pompeo’s appearance.
“The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance,” the spokesperson said.
Pompeo’s trip to Israel is part of a four-country tour this week meant to build on the Trump administration’s recent shepherding of new diplomatic relations between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi. Pompeo will next travel to Sudan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel failed to address directly whether the committee or the Trump campaign will be reimbursing the secretary’s travel to Jerusalem.
“I’m not confirming anything having to do with Secretary Pompeo’s trip,” she said in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “I am just saying, the programming, the staging, everything that we’re doing will be paid for by the Republican National Committee and the campaign.”
Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of State for political affairs in the Obama administration, called the stated distinction between the secretary’s personal political remarks and his diplomatic mission in Israel “a detail without a difference.”
“This is really a grievous and potentially very harmful act by Secretary Pompeo,” she said. “Secretaries of State and Defense have traditionally stayed above partisan politics because they represent America to the world. It is truly breaking a norm to have the secretary of State do this.”
She also said that it is “wholly inappropriate to use Jerusalem as a prop in the Republican convention.”
That view was echoed by pro-Israel, Jewish and Democratic groups which condemned using Jerusalem as a backdrop, saying it threatens to turn the historically bipartisan U.S.-Israel relationship into a political wedge issue.
“It’s clear that US policy towards Israel under Pompeo is now — like virtually the entire administration — just a tool to promote President Trump’s political interests and to sycophantically celebrate him personally,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the left-leaning pro-Israel organization J Street, said in a statement.
“Jewish voters see through this cheap political stunt and reject Trump’s ongoing use of Israel as a political wedge issue,” Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said in a statement. “The U.S.-Israel relationship has been, and should remain, a bipartisan issue.”
Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, a nonpartisan and nongovernmental organization of retired State Department officials, said it’s a tradition to not mix politics with department business, though he suggested past administrations also have mixed the two.
“However, it is not a law and it would be fair to temper outrage with the recognition that the line has not always been respected,” Neumann said.
Former senior State Department officials concede that the rules around political participation in conventions are murky, but point out that department leadership has routinely put out memos providing guidance on which political events to avoid. They say leadership has specifically highlighted that Senate-confirmed, presidentially-appointed staff — a category Pompeo falls into — should avoid conventions.
Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun put out such a memo in February, Politico reported, and added that he would avoid national conventions because he is a Senate-confirmed and Presidentially-appointed Department official.
And most experts who commented for this story said that giving an address from Jerusalem at a political convention would represent an extreme.
Most experts who commented for this story said that giving an address from Jerusalem at a political convention would represent an extreme.
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas who is regarded as a potential 2024 presidential candidate for the Republican ticket, has blurred the line before.
In July, he addressed the “Family Leadership Summit” in Iowa, a conservative Christian group that has clout with the Republican Party. In February, he spoke in front of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.
Pompeo’s address, which is expected to air at the convention on Tuesday night, was filmed at around sunset atop the famed King David Hotel overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City, Tal Schneider, a reporter with the Israeli newspaper Globes, first reported.
The setting provides a powerful image that symbolizes what the administration considers its most crowning foreign policy achievement of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, giving formal American recognition of the city as Israel’s capital and a key play to President Trump’s base of evangelical voters.
The president boasted of the accomplishment during a rally in Wisconsin last week.
“We moved the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, that’s for the evangelicals … the evangelicals are more excited about that than Jewish people,” Trump said.
Pompeo, who often cites his deep commitment to his evangelical Christian faith, is expected to deliver a short address focusing on Trump’s accomplishments in making America safer as part of the “America First” foreign policy, The Associated Press reported.
Pompeo posted on his personal Twitter account Sunday night shortly after the convention announced his participation in the convention that he was “looking forward to sharing with you how my family is more SAFE and more SECURE because of President Trump.”
A former senior State Department official said the secretary’s decision to address the convention is a reflection of Trump’s push for administration officials to demonstrate loyalty. McClatchy reported that Trump personally asked Pompeo to address the convention.
“I would say that having his cabinet members speak is pretty much in line with the personal loyalty that Trump seems to demand of everyone,” the official said.