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Opinion Now we know what Pompeo’s ‘swagger’ at the State Department was really about

Mike Pompeo sits for an interview during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28 in Orlando.
Mike Pompeo sits for an interview during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28 in Orlando. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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SECRETARY OF STATE Mike Pompeo adopted the term “swagger” to describe the department’s style under his leadership. It was a curious approach to diplomacy, and it led to some notable disasters, including the alienation of the United States from its closest allies on the U.N. Security Council. Now it emerges that Mr. Pompeo’s swagger extended to his personal affairs: An inspector general’s investigation found more than 100 instances where the secretary or his wife ordered staff to carry out errands or conduct their private business.

As Mr. Pompeo and wife, Susan, apparently saw it, no task was too small to be delegated to U.S. government employees: depositing and picking up the dog from boarding; making hair appointments; delivering flowers to friends; preparing their Christmas cards. Staff also were used to save the family money. One was ordered to use discretionary funds to buy gold nut bowls as gifts for people who hosted private dinners for the Pompeos, while another arranged a hotel discount for their son when he joined them at a U.S. Military Academy football game. When he was asked about it, Mr. Pompeo allowed that “as a general matter, he likes to ‘pay less’ for things if he can.”

The secretary breezily — or maybe, swaggeringly — told the inspector general that there was nothing wrong with all this because it took up little of his staff’s time and was done by them out of friendship. But the political appointee who did most of the work reported that she saw it as part of her duties — particularly as the assignments came to her in emails sent to her department account. As for time spent, according to the inspector general, two staffers, including a senior Foreign Service officer, reported to Foggy Bottom on a weekend to prepare the Christmas cards, while the political aide “spent time over three months” arranging a visit to Washington, D.C., by a Kansas political group that had supported Mr. Pompeo when he was a member of Congress.

That, in the end, is what “swagger” was really about: advancing Mr. Pompeo’s personal political career. As he considered a run for senator in Kansas, as well as a possible 2024 presidential candidacy, Mr. Pompeo used the secretary of state’s platform and resources to nurture his political profile and connections. He staged a series of closed private dinners at the department with business leaders and conservative figures, spending at least $43,000, including more than $10,000 for embossed pens handed out as favors. He devoted his official Twitter account to boasts about his accomplishments.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pompeo devastated State’s staffing and morale. Hundreds of career officers resigned during his tenure, and surveys showed a sevenfold increase in the percentage of employees “who felt they could not disclose a suspected violation of law, rule and regulation without fear of reprisal.” No wonder: Mr. Pompeo induced President Donald Trump to fire the inspector general who first opened an investigation of his abuses, Steven Linick. Mr. Pompeo claimed he did not know of the probe at the time and that he ousted Mr. Linick because he was not “performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to.” Now we know exactly what it means to “perform” for Mr. Pompeo.

Read more:

Hugh Hewitt: The ‘long duel’ between the U.S. and China is escalating

Jennifer Rubin: Mike Pompeo’s scandals big and small erode his dwindling credibility

The Post’s View: Trump and Pompeo have overseen the degradation of the State Department

Max Boot: ‘Pinocchio’ Pompeo is trying to rewrite the history of the past four years