Pompeo defends controversial RNC speech from Israel as ‘lawful’

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that his speech to the Republican Nation Convention (RNC) last week was “lawful" despite an outcry from Democrats.

In a message recorded when Pompeo was on a diplomatic mission to Israel in late August, the secretary of state addressed the GOP with Jerusalem’s Old City as his backdrop – breaking from diplomatic protocol. But Pompeo defended the speech, saying it did not violate any laws.

“All I can say in my role as secretary of state is the State Department reviewed this, it was lawful,” Pompeo said Wednesday. “I personally felt it was important that the world hear the message of what this administration has accomplished,” he added.

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Questions surrounding the legality of Pompeo’s speech decision arose in light of the fact that State Department staff were advised leading up to the conventions against participation in any partisan events.

Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., announced that the committee will begin proceedings to hold Pompeo in contempt for an “alarming disregard” for laws beholden to the State Department, including his recent RNC speech.

“From Mr. Pompeo’s refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry to his willingness to bolster a Senate Republican-led smear against the president’s political rivals to his speech to the RNC, which defied his own guidance and possibly the law, he has demonstrated alarming disregard for the laws and rules governing his own conduct and for the tools the Constitution provides to prevent government corruption,” Engel said in a statement Friday.

“He seems to think the office he holds, the department he runs, the personnel he oversees and the taxpayer dollars that pay for all of it are there for his personal and political benefit,” he added.

Pompeo’s critics pointed to policies that he approved which specifically barred State Department employees from engaging in political conventions or activities.

In a memo from December 2019, the State Department notified employees that they were strictly prohibited from engaging “in political activity in concert with a partisan candidate, political party or partisan political group.”

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The memo expressly prohibited the “endorsement” of a candidate or party by any State Department staff member, but also specifically noted that "Senate-confirmed presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event."

“All I can say in my role of secretary of state – I did this in my personal capacity,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday.

Pompeo reportedly filmed the pre-recorded RNC speech in between meetings with Israeli government officials.

In addition to the December staff memo, Pompeo’s office released an email in July reminding employees to adhere to the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees in the executive branch from participating in political activities.

“It is important that the department’s employees do not improperly engage the Department of State in the political process, and that they adhere to the Hatch Act and department policies in their own political activities," Pompeo wrote in late July.

“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,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

“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,” he said.

Pompeo did not comment on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s move to hold him in contempt.

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