The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senate Democrats and career diplomats say Pompeo’s leadership has badly weakened the State Department

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo leaves after a news conference the State Department following on July 28. (Pool/Reuters)

Senate Democrats released a scathing report on Tuesday about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s management of the State Department, decrying the broad vacancies at the agency and high-profile resignations of career officials because of alleged intimidation and retribution campaigns by political appointees.

The report, produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, probably will provide ammunition for liberal lawmakers who are poised to grill Pompeo about his actions during his public appearance before the committee on Thursday.

The key findings of the report underscore that career officials from 2016 to 2019 “reported steep increases in fear or reprisal for reporting suspected violations of law and declining confidence in senior State Department leadership”; 11 assistant secretary or undersecretary posts are vacant or led by acting officials; and that diplomats report a “sense of disrespect and disdain for their work, prompting many to leave and contributing to a loss of expertise at the Department.”

The 46-page report is based on interviews with current and former State Department officials, news media reports and government documents provided to the committee.

It does not have the endorsement of committee Republicans, but some recently retired career officials who served in prominent positions during the Trump administration lauded the report as an accurate depiction of the deterioration of the department under Pompeo’s leadership.

“This report is a powerful and important indictment of behaviors that have undermined the State Department, of behaviors that have drained budgets, disrespected and ignored expertise, and sought to marginalize the department in the implementation of foreign policy,” said Tom Shannon, who served as both the acting secretary of state and the undersecretary for political affairs under President Trump.

A State Department representative pushed back on the report, saying Democrats, lead by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), refused to confirm nominees for the vacant positions.

“Had Senator Menendez not obstructed so many nominations, the department would have even more well-qualified and talented people fulfilling important roles,” the spokesperson said.

Menendez shot back Tuesday, saying his committee confirmed more than 160 nominees but was forced to slow down others because they were not qualified. “When a nominee has made vile comments against senators or engaged in racist schemes” they don’t deserve the honor of “representing the United States,” he said in a webcast on the committee’s website.

Among Menendez’s complaints of current nominees are Trump’s pick for ambassador to Norway, who was involved in the production of a racist campaign flier against an African American politician in Georgia, according to court documents.

Menenedez also complained that some of the nominees who have been confirmed by the committee have been involved in questionable behavior, citing reports that Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, asked U.K. officials whether the British Open golf tournament could be held at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland.

There have also been reports that the State Department’s internal watchdog, whom Pompeo fired in May, was investigating Johnson after allegations that he made racist and sexist comments to staff.

The watchdog was also looking into allegations that Pompeo and his wife, Susan, inappropriately had staff and diplomatic security do personal chores for them, such as picking up takeout and other errands, and whether Pompeo improperly pushed through arms sales packages to Saudi Arabia over the objections of Congress.

Pompeo has said his recommendation for the firing of the inspector general, Steve Linick, was justified because he wasn’t supporting the mission of the State Department. Pompeo has brushed off reporters who have asked him to offer substantive rebuttals to the allegations.

The State Department representative said that the department’s “swagger is fully back,” using a catchphrase Pompeo repeatedly invoked at the outset of his tenure. The department declined to offer the name of a specific person willing to defend Pompeo’s leadership.