Mike Pompeo’s RNC Appearance Shreds the Gap Between Politics and Government Business

“A complete abdication of leadership.”

Alex Wong/Getty

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Mike Pompeo’s speech at the Republican National Convention on Tuesday is strange. And not because of anything he said—but because it happened at all. When he appeared via a recorded address from Jerusalem, praising President Donald Trump for “bold initiatives in nearly every corner of the world,” he showed a bold disregard for federal law that should have stopped him from participating in the event.

The Hatch Act bars federal officials from engaging in political activity while on duty, yet Pompeo recorded his speech during an official diplomatic visit to Israel. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has already launched an investigation into Pompeo’s appearance, which he called “highly unusual” and possibly “illegal.” 

Pompeo’s virtual appearance at the convention defies State Department standards he himself set. Last month, he signed a cable to all staff reminding them to not “improperly engage the Department of State in the political process.” The full department policy, sketched out in a 2019 memo, says, “Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event.” Cabinet officials have long abstained from conventions for this very reason. Former secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell both skipped political conventions while in office. 

But Pompeo has shown little interest in meeting the typical standards for America’s chief diplomat. He frequently involves his wife in department business—an arrangement that’s raised eyebrows among State Department lifers—and promoted a speech on being a “Christian leader” on the department’s homepage, possibly running afoul of the Establishment Clause. His decision to use Jerusalem, already a politically sensitive location, as the setting for a political convention speech is just one more reversal of traditional State Department norms.

“It is also a complete abdication of leadership (and flouting of Pompeo’s own much-ballyhooed ‘ethos’) for the rank and file to abide by the rules while the boss does whatever the heck he pleases,” Laura Kennedy, an ambassador to Turkmenistan under George W. Bush, told me. While emphasizing that her comments only represented her own views, Kennedy added that “many, many current State employees find this appalling.” 

Pompeo, never one to pass up an opportunity to praise Trump, cast aside his own guidance to State Department staffers and directly urged voters to support Trump in November. “The way each of us can best ensure our freedoms is by electing leaders who don’t just talk, but deliver,” he said. 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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