World: Pompeo's Impeachment Role Draws Outcry From Diplomats, Staffers - - PressFrom - US
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World Pompeo's Impeachment Role Draws Outcry From Diplomats, Staffers

22:40  11 november  2019
22:40  11 november  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

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WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been credited with improving State Department staffing and morale, but his treatment of U.S. Foreign Service officers caught in the impeachment inquiry has undercut those efforts, according to current and former career professionals upset over his recent actions.

Mike Pompeo wearing a suit and tie© Alex Edelman/Bloomberg News

As the impeachment inquiry increasingly pits the White House against members of the U.S. Foreign Service who have been called to testify, Mr. Pompeo has sided at key junctures with President Trump, prompting at least one high-level resignation and eliciting protests from groups that represent current and former staff members.

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They complain that Mr. Pompeo has described Mr. Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president as “appropriate” even though the president during the call disparaged the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was pulled from her post.

Mr. Pompeo later ignored calls by diplomats for a public statement of support for the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch. He also denied speaking about the matter with a top aide, Michael McKinley, who testified before the impeachment probe that he had personally approached Mr. Pompeo about it.

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Another diplomat, George Kent, has testified that Mr. Pompeo inaccurately wrote that Congress was bullying diplomats into appearing before lawmakers. Mr. Kent added that he was pressured by State Department lawyers against cooperating with the inquiry.

The American Foreign Service Association, which represents State Department staff, has described the inquiry as “probably the most significant set of challenges our Service and our institution have ever faced” and published an appeal urging employees to stay in the service.

While Mr. Trump has referred to many of those testifying as “never-Trumpers,” Foreign Service officers function as the diplomatic equivalent to members of the U.S. armed forces, taking an oath to defend and support the U.S. Constitution against domestic and foreign enemies and serving in overseas assignments, often in conflict zones.

“Our colleagues have found themselves in an unprecedented situation, facing legally binding congressional subpoenas while being instructed not to cooperate by their lawyer in the executive branch,” said Eric Rubin, the AFSA president, in an interview. “They desperately do not want to be dragged into political dramas like this.”

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The State Department declined to comment on the complaints. Mr. Pompeo, visiting Germany on Thursday, avoided questions about the inquiry. “It’s a pretty busy world out there. I haven’t had a chance to follow this,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters.

The association has launched a drive to raise money for Foreign Service officers who have had to pay for their own attorneys. Mr. Rubin said the fees were “frightening” and urged the State Department to do more to support staff caught in the political crossfire. Mr. Pompeo said in Germany that the State Department may announce something soon concerning legal fees.

Among other expressions of concern, more than 400 former U.S. Agency for International Development officials have signed a letter published on an online forum that cautions against the politicization of the Foreign Service.

“We are angered at the treatment of dedicated, experienced, and wise public servants like Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch,” they wrote.

When Mr. Pompeo took over the State Department in April 2018, he ended a hiring freeze, allowed embassies to fill critical jobs, nominated officials to top posts that had been left vacant and increased promotions to normal levels. Mr. Pompeo dubbed his campaign a mission to bring swagger back to the State Department.

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“He does deserve credit for rebuilding the institution, processes, creating opportunities, and, frankly, ambitions for the Foreign Service,” said Mr. McKinley, the former top aide to Mr. Pompeo and career ambassador, in testimony.

Just last month, Mr. Pompeo was back in his home state of Kansas on a third official trip this year, handing out “swagger” badges to students to encourage them to consider a career in the foreign service. Mr. Pompeo has said part of his job is to explain to domestic audiences what the State Department does for America’s interests, but the secretary’s repeated trips to Kansas have fueled speculation about a run for office there.

Messrs. McKinley and Kent were two of nine current or former State Department officials who have provided testimony in the House impeachment inquiry, and both addressed concerns that they and others had about Mr. Pompeo’s handling of the probe, according to transcripts of their testimony released last week.

Mr. McKinley testified that he spoke to Mr. Pompeo about a demonstration of support for Ms. Yovanovitch after the White House on Sept. 25 released a transcript of the call between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president, in which Mr. Trump called Ms. Yovanovitch “bad news” and warned “she’s going to go through some things.”

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Mr. McKinley said he followed up with an email to a group of top-level State Department colleagues on Sept. 28 to suggest a statement of support for Ms. Yovanovitch, with the aim of sending a message that the department stood behind its employees. Top political appointees expressed support for the idea, he said.

“I really believed…that this was critical for the Foreign Service, this was having an impact on morale,” Mr. McKinley testified. But no statement was issued.

During Mr. McKinley’s deposition, a Republican attorney, Steve Castor, suggested that Mr. Pompeo and top State Department officials simply might have needed more time to decide to issue a statement supporting Ms. Yovanovitch. “Is it possible that the secretary and his people hadn’t fully come to grips with how they were going to respond to this inquiry?” he asked.

Mr. Kent in his testimony described efforts by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to have Ms. Yovanovitch removed from her post as a “campaign of lies,” and said he had backed the idea of a statement of agency support. Mr. Kent testified that he hadn’t learned why no statement was issued.

Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment. He has said that in the lead-up to Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal, he reminded the president of complaints among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations. In Mr. Giuliani’s view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter.

Mr. McKinley said the lack of a statement was among factors in his decision to resign after 37 years. “I just wanted out, if I can be frank,” he testified.

Write to Jessica Donati at jessica.donati@wsj.com

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