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Trump's chief of protocol pulled off the job ahead of G-20

NBC News logo NBC News 6/25/2019 Josh Lederman
a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Sean P. Lawler © U.S. Department of State Sean P. Lawler

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration's chief of protocol in the State Department has been pulled off the job just ahead of the Group of 20 summit amid an investigation into allegations of discrimination and harassment, U.S. officials said. He is not expected to return to his job.

Two U.S. officials said that employees in Ambassador Sean Lawler's office had been informed that he had been suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of the investigation. A third official said that Lawler had told State Department leadership he planned to submit his resignation to President Trump after the G-20 summit, which starts Friday in Osaka, Japan.

Lawler, a political appointee, was nominated by Trump to the position in September 2017 and given the rank of ambassador. He was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017

Mary-Kate Fisher, the assistant chief of protocol, will attend the G-20 summit instead, the officials said.

The State Department declined to comment. An employee who answered the phone Tuesday in Lawler's office said he was out of the office. Lawler declined to comment on the record.

The U.S. officials who told NBC News about Lawler's situation declined to elaborate about the specifics of the allegations, other than to say that numerous employees in his office had resigned in protest of his management and behavior.

A senior position in U.S. diplomacy, the chief of protocol is responsible for ensuring diplomatic etiquette and overseeing the production of high-level diplomatic meetings, such as bilateral meetings with the U.S. president, vice president and secretary of State. As a result, the chief of protocol often attends important meetings overseas and interacts close-up with foreign leaders, including kings, queens and heads of state.

The suspension comes just as President Trump prepares to fly to Osaka, Japan, for the annual G-20 summit. The event brings together leaders from 20 nations and a Super Bowl of sorts for diplomats who work on protocol, which involves managing ceremonial details to help create "an environment for successful diplomacy," according to the State Department's website.

A regular participant in President Trump's foreign visits, Lawler was sworn in at the end of 2017, but has been in the U.S. government for nearly three decades, according to his official State Department biography. His bio says he served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy and also has worked in the White House's National Security Council.

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