This appears to be at least the third time that dedicated funding for the program has been removed by Trump’s budget officials. For the past two years, Congress has restored it.
A State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss official matters, defended the suggested cut, saying that even if it isn’t included in a final budget, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Stevens program will lose funding.
“The flexibility of the ECE [Educational and Cultural Exchange] budget allows for programs to continue under other line items, such as ‘Professional and Cultural Exchanges,’ even when they do not have a separate budget line item,” the official said in an email.
The attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission and another facility in Benghazi became the focus of a protracted Republican-led effort to fault then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as inadequately protecting Stevens and the three other Americans who were killed.
In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump used the Benghazi attacks to criticize Clinton, saying, “By the way, with Benghazi and with our ambassador — remember? That’s all Hillary Clinton, folks.”
One of the more outspoken GOP lawmakers during that time was now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then a conservative congressman from Kansas in his second term in the House. As a member of the GOP-led House Select Committee on Benghazi, he publicly grilled Clinton and other State Department officials over who was at fault for security lapses.
Pompeo accused Clinton of ignoring requests from embassies seeking extra protection. And even after a two-year investigation by the select committee turned up no basis to attach blame to Clinton in the attacks, Pompeo wrote a dissenting view accusing her of putting “political expediency and politics ahead of the men and women on the ground.”
But now, the suggested cutting of funding to the organization created in Stevens’s memory comes amid scrutiny of the Trump administration, and Pompeo specifically, over the treatment of U.S. diplomats.
The Ukraine impeachment probe into President Trump’s conduct revealed that the White House operated a shadow diplomacy outside normal State Department channels that included an effort to smear the reputation of then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch, a career Foreign Service officer, was later unceremoniously removed from her post.
Pompeo has come under fire for not doing more to protect Yovanovitch professionally or personally.