U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan Pompeo wave as they board their plane in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 18, 2019. They were in Kansas City Monday to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. (Photo credit: JIM YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)
While Democrats are investigating whether State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired for probing into last year’s expedited $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, The American Conservative has learned of another, more direct reason for the IG’s abrupt firing: just days before Linick was removed, he sent a request for information about the “donor dinners” otherwise known as “Madison Dinners” that Pompeo has been hosting on the taxpayer dime for corporate and media big wigs.
Before coronavirus cancelled them, the “Madison Dinners” were elaborate, unpublicized State dinners that Pompeo and his wife Susan hosted in Diplomatic Reception Rooms beginning in 2018. A bevy of big wig political donors, corporate CEOs, and conservative news media celebrities were invited to the dinners funded by taxpayers.
As to whether these dinners were Hatch Act violations, “it would fall into a legal gray area, but using taxpayer money to fund essentially a lavish donor dinner made people in the Office for Protocol feel very uncomfortable,” a former senior State Department official told TAC.
The Office of Protocol exists to host State dinners and events for heads of state, monarchs, diplomats and U.S. officials in order to advance the work of diplomacy.
It’s hard to argue that State Department business is taking place when the attendees are almost all American CEOs and media figures, a source told TAC.
The master list obtained by NBC includes the names of nearly 500 invitees and specifies who accepted, although it is possible some people responded but didn’t show.
The invitees are “a who’s who list of big donors, as well as media that he wants to look good in front of,” a former high-level State Department employee that has knowledge of the lists told TAC.
“Pompeo would invite one ambassador from some country or other so that way the dinner would technically qualify as a State function,” said the source.
“This is all with an eye to the presidential election in 2024,” another State Department source told TAC, noting that a 2024 presidential run would put Pompeo at odds with Vice President Mike Pence.
And rather than foreign policy experts or experienced diplomats, Pompeo has placed Silicon Valley titans and donors on the State Department’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board. According to a 2019 fiscal year report for the board provided to TAC by the State Department, the panel has recently included nine members. Among them: Douglas Beck from Apple, Jared Cohen from Jigsaw (Alphabet Inc.), James Donavan from Goldman Sachs, and William Roedy, former CEO of MTV.
In his first public comments on the firing, Pompeo claimed he was not aware that Linick was investigating him at the time he recommended that the IG be removed. He said he knew only about a case “involving a national security matter,” reports the Post.
“It is not possible that this decision, or my recommendation rather, to the President rather, was based on any effort to retaliate for any investigation that was going on, or is currently going on,” Pompeo said. “Because I simply don’t know. I’m not briefed on it. I usually see these investigations in final draft form 24 hours, 48 hours before the IG is prepared to release them.”
“So it’s simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation. End of story,” Pompeo said.
But sources tell a different story. A former State Department employee told TAC that as soon as the Office of Protocol was notified of the IG’s request, they immediately notified Pompeo’s office. Three days later, Linick was out.
The dinners aren’t the only irregularities that the Inspector General of the State Department was probing, however.
According to a Democratic congressional aide, the IG was investigating last year’s decision to bypass Congress by declaring an emergency that expedited an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sit for an interview with the IG office on the issue, reports CNN.
“Democratic lawmakers on a House committee last year began looking at a whistle-blower complaint that Mr. Pompeo, his wife and adult son were asking diplomatic security agents to run personal errands, including picking up Chinese food and the family dog from a groomer. The whistle-blower said agents had complained they were ‘UberEats with guns,’ according to CNN, which first reported on the accusations,” reports The New York Times.
Susan Pompeo holds a very active role within the State Department, where she has her own political appointee staffer.
That is very unusual, because very few Trump administration officials have managed to secure one. For example. Richard Grennell, the Director of National Intelligence, had to fight for a year and a half to get one.
Susan Pompeo also accompanies her husband on several long, taxpayer-funded trips overseas.
“In January 2019, she went with him on an eight-day journey across the Middle East—which raised questions among some officials because most State Department employees, including those supporting the trip, were working without pay during a partial government shutdown,” reports The New York Times. “Mrs. Pompeo has also flown with her husband on multi-night trips to Switzerland and Italy, which included a visit to the secretary’s ancestral home region of Abruzzo.”
While she is not paid by the State Department, she has met with embassy families and local figures on some of these trips, and Pompeo calls her a “force multiplier.”
Still, it is unlikely that the investigations of Susan Pompeo and the Saudi arms deal led to the IG’s abrupt ousting, because the Saudi arms deal investigation began a year ago, and would have been approved by several high-level Pentagon attorneys and Trump’s National Security Council.
Unlike the Saudi arms deal, however, the donor dinners have only recently come to light, and could be a huge political embarrassment to Pompeo, who has so far stayed within the good graces of both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
The Office of Protocol and the State Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus to NBC, however, that the “Madison Dinners” are “a world-class opportunity to discuss the mission of the State Department and the complex foreign policy matters facing our exceptional nation,” and that invited guests included “many foreign diplomats, thought leaders, academics, government leaders at many levels, business leaders, Members of Congress and the media —each of whom has a stake in America and its leadership in the world.”