- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Top Democrats said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Tuesday address to the Republican National Convention while on an official trip to the Middle East was a gross breach of diplomatic protocol and another example of President Trump wrongly mixing politics with the machinery of government.

Mr. Trump is slated to accept the Republican nomination on Thursday from the White House, while Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak Wednesday from Fort McHenry, the historic National Park Service site in Baltimore.

First lady Melania Trump spoke Tuesday from the newly revamped White House Rose Garden.

“It’s just unfortunate that this president seems like from the venues he’s choosing … to be trampling upon the ideas that there are certain places that are sacrosanct and should not be used for politics and a political convention in this way,” said Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat.

Mr. Pompeo will deliver an address videotaped in Jerusalem, in which he will tout some of Mr. Trump’s first-term foreign policy moves and say the president has “led bold initiatives in nearly every corner of the world” to secure peace and “keep us safe and our freedoms intact,” according to speech excerpts.

The State Department said Mr. Pompeo was acting entirely in his personal capacity, but Democrats said that was a stretch for a secretary of state while traveling overseas.

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“For him to do this, I think, further shows that this administration is willing to politicize the state of Israel and use it as a political wedge as opposed to a rallying cry for us to come together and continue our traditions of bipartisan support for the state of Israel,” Mr. Booker told reporters.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel said the speech violates Mr. Pompeo’s own directive last month warning State Department employees against appearing at partisan political events.

“It is important to remember that in order to avoid any confusion or misperception in this regard, the department’s longstanding policy is that U.S. citizen employees and family members may not engage in partisan political activity while posted or on [duty] abroad, even on personal time,” said the cable, which was signed by Mr. Pompeo.

“But, once again, the rules go out the window for Secretary Pompeo when they get in the way of serving his political interests and Donald Trump,” said Mr. Engel, New York Democrat.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat and chairman of a foreign affairs oversight subcommittee, opened an investigation Tuesday into Mr. Pompeo’s speech and demanded that the State Department answer questions and provide records tied to Mr. Pompeo’s trip.

Mr. Pompeo is on an official trip to Israel, Sudan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. The State Department said taxpayer money was not used to fund the speech.

Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden’s campaign wasn’t buying it.

“The fact that a sitting secretary of state would give a speech like this is flat-out disgraceful,” said campaign spokesman Bill Russo. “It is an abuse of taxpayer money. This is part of, apparently, official travel even if it is his personal time. It’s taxpayer money that got him there. It’s taxpayer money that’s paying for his protection. There are certainly taxpayer-funded staff on the ground.”

Before Mr. Pompeo, no sitting secretary of state in modern history had delivered a featured address for a major party’s national convention.

In the recent past, former secretaries Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Condoleezza Rice timed official travel to coincide with party conventions, ensuring they would have a reason to be elsewhere.

“As secretary of state, I am obliged not to participate in any way, shape, fashion, or form in parochial, political debates,” Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, said in 2004 ahead of the Republican convention. “I have to take no sides in the matter.”

George Shultz, former President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, did appear at Republicans’ 1988 convention but stayed on the sidelines.

P.J. Crowley, who served as an assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the Obama administration, said there’s no issue if Mr. Pompeo wants to lock arms with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hail the recent breakthrough in relations with the UAE.

“But when a sitting secretary of state tapes a video to be played at the Republican National Convention, that crosses a significant line,” Mr. Crowley said.

He worked for then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in 1992 and then-Defense Secretary William Perry in 1996, and both men “scrupulously avoided” any appearance of partisan political activity during those years.

“Both were drawn into public discussions of issues that were part of the campaign,” he said. “But neither one became active participants in the campaign. This is very different.”

Mr. Pompeo, a former congressman and CIA director, has been mentioned as a potential 2024 GOP presidential contender. He recently made a trip to Iowa, site of the caucuses that kick off the presidential primary season.

Some Republicans had pushed him to run for Kansas’s open Senate seat this year, but he declined those overtures.

Democrats complain that Mr. Trump is turning the apparatus of government into a campaign tool.

On Monday, Mr. Trump broadcast during the GOP convention from inside the White House, appearing with “frontline” COVID-19 workers and hostages who have returned to the United States during his time in office.

Mr. Trump took a shot at Democrats in the ongoing standoff over the Postal Service as he thanked a postal worker in one video.

“We’re not getting rid of our postal workers, you know? They like to sort of put that out there,” the president said. “If anyone does, it’s the Democrats — not the Republicans.”

The Hatch Act generally forbids federal employees from engaging in politics on the taxpayer’s dime, and while the law doesn’t apply to Mr. Trump or Mr. Pence, it does apply to other White House personnel.

A ruling by the Office of Special Counsel, which polices the Hatch Act, said Mr. Trump could speak from the White House, as long as certain restrictions were observed.

And Stephanie Grisham, Mrs. Trump’s spokeswoman and former press secretary for the president, said White House lawyers have provided extensive guidelines on what is allowed for speeches there.

“It’s being very, very strictly adhered to,” Ms. Grisham said.

The coronavirus pandemic upended the Republican Party’s plans to hold a full convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Democrats also canceled their convention in Milwaukee, with Mr. Biden delivering his speech from the Chase Center near his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Democrats have faced complaints they ran afoul of federal restrictions on political activity during the roll call vote to nominate Mr. Biden. Members of the armed forces stood in the background in their uniforms while American Samoa cast its votes over livestream.

The Democratic National Committee called it an “oversight.” The Army is investigating.

Several videos also featured Beau Biden, the late son of Mr. Biden who served in the Army, though images of the younger Biden in his military gear were accompanied by disclaimers that the visuals did not constitute any endorsement from the military or Defense Department.

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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