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Watchdog: Mike Pompeo changed State Department rules, violated Hatch Act with convention speech

The Office of Special Counsel found that Pompeo was one of 13 Trump officials who disregarded the Hatch Act, which bars mixing government and politics.
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Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo changed long-standing State Department policy and violated the Hatch Act with his speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, a government watchdog concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The Office of Special Counsel's 59-page report found that Pompeo was one of at least 13 high-level Trump administration officials who violated the 1939 law designed to prevent the mixing of governmental authority with political campaigns.

Pompeo delivered his precedent-busting convention speech from Jerusalem, where he was on official State Department business. His office maintained that he was speaking in his personal capacity, not as the country's top diplomat.

"I have a big job ... as Susan's husband and Nick's dad," Pompeo said at the beginning of his remarks, before he touted the administration's accomplishments and defended President Donald Trump's "America First" doctrine.

State Department policy had prohibited political employees from speaking at political party conventions, but Pompeo changed the rule four days before the speech and stipulated that the change applied only to him.

"Under the new policy, the Secretary of State 'is not restricted from addressing a political party convention when requested by or for the President,'" Tuesday's report said, adding that the "decision was made against the advice provided to Secretary Pompeo by senior State Department lawyers."

The report found that Pompeo had been well aware of the restrictions and knew they applied to him.

"Secretary Pompeo had in fact himself reaffirmed those restrictions in December 2019. And in July 2020, less than a month before Secretary Pompeo approved the exception for the Secretary of State, the State Department circulated a document issued under his signature that reiterated the political activity restrictions on State Department political appointees, including the Secretary of State. Those restrictions prohibited the Secretary of State from addressing a political party convention," the report found.

Pompeo, who is considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, amended the policy after "being asked, on behalf of President Trump, to participate in the RNC," the report said.

State Department personnel also advised Pompeo about "how to comply with the Hatch Act when delivering the speech," the report said. "As he did with the policy change, Secretary Pompeo disregarded that advice" and spent the bulk of his address talking about official State Department matters, which he should have stayed away from, it said.

Pompeo's political action committee did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The report also provided new details about another unusual event from the Republican National Convention, involving the production of a naturalization ceremony at the White House with Trump and Chad Wolf, then the acting secretary of homeland security.

The report said that the ceremony was planned as a convention event and that both the Office of Special Counsel and a Homeland Security ethics official had warned that it would violate the Hatch Act. Wolf told the Office of Special Counsel in a written statement that he had not been told about the ethics issue and that he "did not know whether video of the ceremony was going to be made publicly available or that it would be used at the Republican National Convention."

The report cited 11 other Trump officials, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and senior adviser Jared Kushner, for actions like improperly promoting Trump's re-election and bashing his opponent, Joe Biden, in numerous media interviews.

"In short, they made campaign statements," the report said.

The scope of the incidents revealed major flaws in enforcement of Hatch Act violations, the report determined, and showed how the Office of Special Counsel's enforcement tools are "inadequate to deter senior administration officials from breaking the law."

The report went on to say that previous administrations would take steps to prevent those who violated the law from doing so again but that Trump refused to take any action against his officials.

The "Hatch Act is only as effective in ensuring a depoliticized federal workforce as the president decides it will be," the report said, adding, "Where, as happened in the Trump administration, the White House chooses to ignore the Hatch Act’s requirements, there is currently no mechanism for holding senior administration officials accountable for violating the law."

It called for numerous reforms, such as letting the Office of Special Counsel act against violators and providing a mechanism that would allow for financial penalties.