Shortly before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's prerecorded speech from Jerusalem aired during the Republican National Convention Tuesday night, the House of Representatives launched an investigation into the top American diplomat's "likely unprecedented" and potentially unlawful decision to address the partisan event while overseas on taxpayer-funded government business.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the panel's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, announced the investigation in a statement Tuesday, declaring that "the Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo have shown a gross disregard not only of basic ethics, but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain."
"Congress has a responsibility to stand up for the rule of law and hold them accountable for this corrupt behavior."
—Rep. Joaquin Castro
"Congress has a responsibility to stand up for the rule of law and hold them accountable for this corrupt behavior," said Castro. "It's absolutely unacceptable that a sitting U.S. Secretary of State, America's top diplomat, would use official taxpayer-funded business to participate in a political party convention, particularly after the State Department published guidance that explicitly prohibits such activity."
In a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun on Tuesday, Castro demanded information on "what Department of State resources, if any, were used to organize this event, including transportation, coordination with the host government, diplomatic security, and lodging."
Castro also urged Biegun to turn over "any and all records prepared by or sent to or from the Office of the Legal Adviser on or after December 3, 2019 regarding restrictions on political activities by Secretary Pompeo or presidential appointees."
As Common Dreams reported earlier this week, news that Pompeo would deliver a convention speech while on an official trip to Israel was met with alarm by legal experts and commentators, who condemned the move as unethical and "an outrageous exploitation of religion" in the service of President Donald Trump's reelection efforts.
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Pompeo's speech—which effusively praised Trump's foreign policy, including the likely illegal assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani that brought the two nations to the brink of all-out war earlier this year—marked the first time in at least 75 years that a sitting secretary of state has addressed a national party convention, presidential historian Michael Beschloss told the New York Times.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the RNC from a work trip in Jerusalem, after warning State Dept. employees against "any partisan political activity" tied to a campaign.
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) launched a probe into Sec. Pompeo's speech and said it may be illegal. pic.twitter.com/HxbEoQJ3fN
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) August 26, 2020
As Politico reported, an internal State Department legal memo says "Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event."
"There do not appear to be exceptions made for Pompeo, a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee," Politico noted. "And in general, the restrictions are even more strict for U.S. diplomats when they are overseas."
Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council, tweeted late Tuesday that it's "funny that Mike Pompeo broke his own ethics rules to remind everyone he is both uninspiring and untethered to reality."