“To refuse the invitation can now be seen as a lack of courtesy, but here there is no significant foreign policy interest other than the issue of courtesy,” argued the State Department’s Middle East Near East Office, which oversees the Middle East. , in six pages memo. Document dated 7 January 2019, the same day the trip started.
Despite the Middle East Bureau’s stated reservations, the memorandum, labeled “sensitive but unclassified,” recommends that Susan Pompeo’s trip be approved and paid for in part by government funds. It was not clear whether then-Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, to whom the memorandum was addressed, was formally signed or not. Either way, Susan Pompeo went on the trip with her husband.
The memo sheds new light on the unusual, and controversial, role Susan Pompeo has played in the State Department since her husband took over as America̵7;s top diplomat in April 2018. Susan Pompeo has been an unusually active husband, so much so. The State Department’s inspector general’s office is investigating whether she and her husband misused public resources.
Mike Pompeo has strongly defended his wife’s behavior in the past, dismissing criticism of her role as “sexist” and “badly dated and insulting.” In a statement Thursday, a spokesman said the State Department’s “legal and ethical team determined that Ms. Pompeo’s role in this trip advanced the goals of our administration’s foreign policy set by the administration.”
“As the secretary has already explained to Politico,” the spokeswoman said, “Ms. Pompeo provides an extraordinary boost to our diplomatic mission by meeting with the spouses of new foreign service officers, talking about families heading abroad for assignments for “for the first time, and making sure foreign diplomats and their spouses are always treated with kindness and warmth, reflecting America’s best tradition.”
Sullivan, who is now the US ambassador to Russia, did not respond to a request for comment.
Pompeo’s January 2019 trip lasted eight days, including Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman. During the trip, Susan Pompeo fulfilled one of the provisions of the memorandum: “There is a risk that Ms. Pompeo’s trip during a closure may attract media attention and potential criticism in Congress and elsewhere.”
Surely, some news reports appeared in which unnamed American diplomats decided the idea that they should hire the secretary’s wife, even when faced with wool and late payments.
But the secretary insisted that having his wife was good for America’s foreign morals and attitude. He called her a “force multiplier” and stressed that she visited with the families of American diplomats to get an understanding of their quality of life.
Former State Department officials have differing feelings about whether it is a good idea to travel with a spouse to the secretary, though everyone agrees that it is not unprecedented. Some who support the idea say that in general, the cost is minimal, especially if there is space on the plane and the secretary and spouse have a room.
Foreign Service experts say there is no clear budget line in the division bills to cover the expenses of a secretary of state’s spouse. Lawyers who helped draft the memorandum, however, noted that there are provisions that allow U.S. funds to be used when a secretary’s family member operates in a “representative” capacity, and that Susan Pompeo stops in Cairo and Abu Dhabi would qualify.
According to several lines in the memorandum entrusted to the Middle East office, invitations to Susan Pompeo were “extended and accepted”. The invitations were extended to 2018; events included dinners and a meeting with a country’s minister of youth and culture.
What made the January 2019 trip even more challenging to resolve was the closure of the government. The closure was triggered by President Donald Trump’s clash with Congress over funding for the construction of a wall along the southern border.
The memorandum shows in depth what Susan Pompeo’s travel taxpayers would cover – in essence, the costs associated with Abu Dhabi and Cairo were largely. But he also clarifies that Pompeos personally have to pay for some other parts of Susan Pompeo’s trip.
The memo does not accurately predict costs, and the State Department has not responded to POLITICO’s past requests for details on how much money Pompeos spent on his trip to the Middle East.
Some former senior department officials who revised the memorandum at the request of POLITICO were hit hardest by carefully calibrated sentences from the Middle East office. They said it showed clear divisions as to whether Susan Pompeo should go on the trip, but a reluctance to turn the issue into an all-out battle.
In the memorandum, State Department Executive Secretary Lisa Kenna – an aide to Mike Pompeo – argued that Susan Pompeo’s presence in office in the UAE and Egypt met spending demands in the midst of the closure because she was invited by ministers the government of those countries, “reflecting the importance they attach to the event to strengthen bilateral ties.”
This was one of the points on which the Near East Bureau of Near Affairs changed, saying “there is no significant foreign policy interest here other than the issue of decency”.
The head of that office at the time was David Satterfield, a career member for decades in the US State Department. He is now the US ambassador to Turkey. He did not respond to a request for comment.