International

Pompeo violated ethics rules, State Dept. watchdog finds

A federal watchdog has found that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan misused State Department resources by having staff run personal errands for them, according to an internal investigation published on Friday.

The report from the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that both the former secretary and his wife requested a political appointee and other employees in the Office of the Secretary to carry out personal tasks, such as picking up personal items; mailing Christmas cards; taking care of pets; and planning events unrelated to the State Department's mission.

The investigation was launched in October 2019 in response to a whistleblower complaint that Pompeo and his wife were misusing State Department resources for personal purposes. It was one of a number of investigations into Pompeo's conduct at the State Department as the nation's top diplomat in the former Trump administration.

Another report, released in August, found that the secretary followed the law in carrying out a multi-billion dollar weapons sale to Saudi Arabia but did not adequately address risks to civilian lives. Further details in the report raised questions among Democratic lawmakers over whether the secretary misrepresented a timeline of events to use the emergency declaration to authorize the weapons sale. 

That report and the ethics probe were both delayed by Pompeo's actions, which included refusing and delaying sitting for interviews and firing the State Department's Inspector General Steve Linick in May.

Linick's firing prompted an investigation by Democratic lawmakers that criticized Pompeo for attempting to disrupt such investigations.

The report on ethics violations was largely completed by August, the report released Friday states, but was delayed for months over Pompeo's refusal to sit for an interview, which he finally did on Dec. 23.

Among the complaints that launched the investigation, the report states, were that Pompeo hired a political appointee as a senior adviser but who was assigned tasks for a personal nature.

While the senior adviser is not named, it is believed to be Toni Porter, a close ally of Pompeo that worked with him since he was a Republican congressman from Kansas, when he was director of the CIA and then when he went to the State Department.

The report said investigators found evidence that the Pompeo's made more than 100 requests that violated ethics guidelines, the majority of the requests to employees in the Office of the Secretary and were carried out both during and outside regular working hours.

The documented requests "had no apparent connection to the official business of the Department and, thus, appear inconsistent with the Standards of Ethical Conduct regarding use of a subordinate employee's time," the report reads.

Investigators also point out that staff were not compensated for time spent completing tasks outside of work hours, which "is an improper use of public office for private gain" and a violation of the State Department's ethics code. 

The investigation largely found that Pompeo and his wife did not use State Department funds in any of the personal tasks carried out. This further supported investigators' findings that the tasks being carried were personal in nature, the report reads.

Politico first reported on the watchdog's findings. 

"The use of personal funds suggests that the events were personal in nature; thus, tasking the Senior Advisor to help plan them suggests it is a misuse of a subordinate's time in violation of the relevant ethical rules," the report states.

The report also recommended further strengthening guidelines around use of certain funds through the Office of the Secretary over potential confusion of such resources being used for personal gifts. 

"Such a determination is essential to ensure that Department funds are not improperly expended for personal gifts, as well as that Department employees are not spending official time performing personal tasks."

Pompeo is not subject to disciplinary action or any other corrective actions that would apply to a federal employee, because of the change in administration.

But the former secretary was able to respond to the findings in the report, with a response from his lawyer downplaying the violations detailed in the 26-page report that the majority of the requests documented were from Susan Pompeo, who was not an employee of the State Department.

The OIG pushed back by saying that Susan Pompeo's emails to State Department staff indicated that the requests were on behalf of the secretary and that Mike Pompeo corroborated in an interview with investigators that his wife was communicating with staff on his behalf.

In an interview with the "senior adviser," the report notes "that she generally performed these tasks not as personal favors to the Pompeos, but rather because she believed she had to as part of her official duties."

The OIG also rejected Mike Pompeo's lawyer's assertion that the requests made were "de minimis" and not in violation of ethical standards, with the watchdog saying that Ethical Conduct does not have a "'de minimis' exception; rather, the Standards prohibit any use of a subordinate's time to perform personal activities unless compensation is paid."

Other violations highlighted by the report include tasking State Department staff with planning events for nonprofit organizations that the Pompeos are associated with in a nongovernmental capacity.

One senior adviser spent three months planning a visit to Washington by the Kansas Chapter of the Young Presidents' Association, of which Pompeo was a member.

Pompeo is considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate and Democrats criticized and accused the secretary of using his office for political gain, in part from allegations that came up from the ethics violations probe and other actions, including using his diplomatic travel to Israel as a backdrop for a speech delivered to the Republican National Convention.

The report documents that most of the requests made by the Pompeo's fell into three broad categories, including requests to pick up personal items, planning of events unrelated to the Departments mission and miscellaneous personal requests.

This included Susan Pompeo requesting staff take care of their dog by "picking the dog up from their home and dropping it off with a boarder; picking it up from the boarder and returning it to their home; and stopping by their home to let the dog out when they were not at home."

The report found that a senior adviser and a senior Foreign Service Officer were made to be available on a weekend in December to envelope, address and mail personal Christmas cards for the Pompeos.

In making the request, Susan Pompeo emailed the staff, "I'm wondering if we are sending the last of our personal [Christmas] cards out, who will be there to help me?"

Some other instances highlighted in the report include Susan Pompeo asking a staffer to purchase at least four copies of a "Politico-50" supplement publication that highlighted Mike Pompeo. Promising to reimburse the staff member for the purchase, Susan Pompeo wrote in an email that "Mike's family would get a kick out of seeing this."

Staffers were tasked with picking up food delivery, making dinner reservations, once at the Cheesecake Factory, and reserving movie and theater tickets.

Other tasks employees were tasked with carrying out - such as purchasing flowers for a sick friend, picking up a novelty T-shirt to be given as a gift and receive the delivery of personal items and deliver them to the Pompeos' residence - were described by the then-secretary and his wife as tasks that "friends" do to "help each other out."

The report also found that the Pompeos used funds from the Office of the Secretary to purchase small gifts for when the couple visited the homes of friends or private U.S. citizens hosting dinners in their honors, including "gold nut bowls." The OIG did not say if this use of funds was improper. 

The Inspector General did make three recommendations for the State Department to more clearly lay out ethics guidelines so that staff and funds are not misused by senior leaders.

The State Department, which is headed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, concurred with all three recommendations, the report notes.

Updated: 8 p.m.

Outbrain