During Tuesday night’s portion of the Republican National Convention, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech from Jerusalem, Israel. Now, Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, is opening an investigation into the legality of Pompeo’s participation in the virtual event. The investigation seeks to answer whether it’s legal for a serving US diplomat to take part in a partisan convention and whether it’s kosher to participate in the convention from overseas.
Hatch Act Violation?
Joaquin Castro is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
On Tuesday, he sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, alerting him of the investigation. The letter requested information about Pompeo’s participation in the convention, and warned that it may have violated the Hatch Act. That law limits the use of a government office for electioneering purposes. In particular, the Hatch Act prohibits government employees from political activities while on the job.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that a sitting US Secretary of State, America’s top diplomat, would use official taxpayer-funded business to participate in a political party convention, particularly after the State Department published guidance that explicitly prohibits such activity,” Castro said in a statement. “The American people deserve a full investigation.”
On Tuesday, Pompeo appeared in the Republican National Convention’s virtual broadcast, speaking from Jerusalem in a prerecorded video. Pompeo filmed the pro-Trump speech a day prior, while visiting Israel’s capital on official US government business.
For its part, the State Department claims the speech was appropriate, because Pompeo didn’t use his government title or resources. But Castro alleges that no legal analysis has been made public, making the legality anything but certain.
“The Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo have shown a gross disregard not only of basic ethics but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain,” Castro said. “Congress has a responsibility to stand up for the rule of law and hold them accountable for this corrupt behavior.”
Break from Tradition
In 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to appear at the Democratic National Convention, where President Obama was nominated for a second term. Then, when Clinton accepted the party’s nomination at its 2016 convention, Secretary of State John Kerry stayed in Washington. Now, Pompeo’s appearance at the convention has Democrats crying foul. Some say it’s a break from precedent that prohibits political appointees from taking part in partisan politics.
New York Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, claimed that Pompeo’s appearance violated two State Department legal restrictions. First, it defies a memorandum that says political appointees may not engage in partisan political activity. And second, it violates a foreign affairs manual that prohibits partisan politicking while abroad.
“Once again,” Engel wrote in a statement, “the rules go out the window for Sec. Pompeo when they get in the way of serving his political interests and Donald Trump.”
As for Castro, he has requested records and documents about Pompeo’s finances while traveling abroad. He has asked the Deputy Secretary of State to submit all pertinent records by September 10.