Already beset by a series of existing scandals, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is facing new criticism after NBC News reported Tuesday night that the nation's top diplomat used taxpayer funds to host lavish dinners for billionaires, conservative news personalities, celebrities, and other figures seemingly unrelated to State Department affairs.
"So Pompeo had fancy dinner parties on taxpayers' dime," tweeted ProPublica deputy managing editor Eric Umansky. "We paid for a harpist."
So Pompeo had fancy dinner parties on taxpayers' dime.
We paid for a harpist.
Laura Ingraham and the head of Chik-fil-A were among the guests.
— Eric Umansky (@ericuman) May 20, 2020
NBC News reported, citing a 500-name invitation list, that guests were asked to attend "elaborate, unpublicized affairs that Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo, began in 2018 and held regularly in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the government's dime."
The list of invitees only included a few diplomats and foreign affairs officials—14% of the total number of guests—raising questions about the real purpose of the events.
We also have some questions about Secretary Pompeo's conduct.
Did he use government resources to explore a run for Senate?https://t.co/jlve29ryot
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) May 19, 2020
According to NBC News:
State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo's political ambitions—complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo's personal email address.
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Many are major players in Republican politics, such as former Bush strategist Karl Rove and David Urban, a lobbyist and political consultant on Trump's 2020 advisory committee. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch appear on the list, as do Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, although it's unclear whether all of them attended.
Among the other guests on the master list:
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham
- Fox News host Brian Kilmeade
- Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy
- Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy
"The CEO of Chick-fil-A is not someone I would say is involved in foreign policy," a source with knowledge of the dinner told NBC News.
Matt Duss, foreign policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), tweeted that the secretary's incompetence at his current position should not be overlooked as a motivator for the guest list containing so few career diplomats.
"Yes, Pompeo invited so few policy professionals to these dinners because he was focused on cultivating support for a future run," said Duss, "but also probably just didn't want too many people in the room who get how completely overmatched he is by his current job."
Congressional Democrats are promising to investigate the dinners.
"I am concerned by allegations that the Secretary appears to be using those taxpayer resources to host large domestic-focused political gatherings that serve little-to-no foreign policy purpose," wrote Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) in a letter to the State Department Tuesday evening.
Recently ousted State Department inspector general Steve Linick may have been looking into the events as recently as last week, NBC News reported, days before President Donald Trump announced his dismissal.
As Forbes explained:
Linick had reportedly inquired about the dinners shortly before he was fired and several congressional committees are looking into them, and one administration official told NBC that President Trump "would have fired Pompeo months ago" if he'd known about the dinners.
On Wednesday, Pompeo told reporters he was a proponent of Linick's firing.
"I recommended to the President that Steve Linick be terminated," said Pompeo. "Frankly, should've done it some time ago."