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Office of Special Counsel widens Pompeo probe into Hatch Act violations

The Hill logo The Hill 10/26/2020 Laura Kelly
a close up of a man with a beard looking at the camera: Office of Special Counsel widens Pompeo probe into Hatch Act violations © Greg Nash Office of Special Counsel widens Pompeo probe into Hatch Act violations

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has launched a probe into whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated the Hatch Act by delivering prerecorded remarks to the Republican National Convention while on official diplomatic travel in Israel, top Democratic House lawmakers said on Monday.

"Our offices have confirmed that the Office of Special Counsel has launched a probe into potential Hatch Act violations tied to Secretary Pompeo's speech to the Republican National Convention," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

Pompeo has defended his convention participation, saying he took part in his personal capacity and not as part of official business. He said his remarks were also cleared by lawyers at the State Department.

But Democrats have homed in on what they say is Pompeo's obvious politicization of the State Department, arguing that his speech to the convention, recorded from Jerusalem and while on official diplomatic travel, was in violation of the Hatch Act and the secretary's own State Department guidelines prohibiting staff from participating in partisan events.

They launched their own investigation in August over potential Hatch Act violations.

The OSC probe into Pompeo's convention speech follows the revelation last week that the independent federal watchdog opened a case file into potential Hatch Act violations over Pompeo's promise to release emails related to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private server.

The case file was opened in response to a request by American Oversight, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog group.


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Pompeo, in response to a complaint by President Trump in an interview on Fox Business earlier this month, has said he would work to release Clinton's emails.

"We'll produce them when they are prepared to be produced," Pompeo said in a briefing with reporters last week.

Democrats have also taken issue with Pompeo's speeches to domestic audiences in key swing states weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, saying the secretary is stumping for Trump.

This includes a speech to the Wisconsin Legislature on Sept. 24 and a baptist church in Texas on Sept. 20. On Oct. 3, Pompeo delivered virtual remarks to the Florida Family Policy Council Gala, an anti-abortion Christian conservative organization. He had canceled attending the event in-person following an outbreak of COVID-19 in the White House that infected the president.

Democrats accuse Pompeo, who is a former Republican congressman from Kansas and considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, as using his office to lay the groundwork for his future political ambitions.

"As we get closer to both this year's election and his own inevitable return to electoral politics, Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the Administration's, and his own, political ambitions," Engel and Lowey said in their statement.

"The Department has repeatedly missed Congressional overseers' deadlines for producing documents on his recent domestic speeches that will help us understand whether they were improper political activities. So we're grateful to OSC-whom Mr. Pompeo can't fire as he did the Inspector General-for looking into this matter."

The State Department has defended Pompeo's domestic travel as communicating directly to the American people the mission of the State Department and Trump's foreign policy agenda.

Democrats are also investigating whether Pompeo's push for the dismissal of the State Department's inspector general Steve Linick in March amounted to an act of political retaliation. Linick was looking into whether Pompeo and his wife misused department resources for their own personal benefit, an investigation that is believed to be ongoing.

"The State Department has a legal obligation under the Federal Records Act to create and retain documentation of the Department's actions, including by the Secretary and his inner circle," Engel and Lowey wrote. "Congress has every right to review those official records. Whether it's before Secretary Pompeo's departure or afterwards, the truth about this administration's corruption will come out."

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