State Department watchdog nears end of one Pompeo probe

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Mike Pompeo may soon be gone as secretary of State, but the inspector general investigations into his and his wife’s actions at the State Department are expected to proceed regardless.

And one of the probes is almost finished.

The near-complete probe is examining Susan Pompeo’s travel with her husband on official trips, both overseas and domestic. Investigators have submitted a draft report about that probe to the department’s leadership, according to a person familiar with the issue.

A second inspector general probe — one that deals more broadly with the Pompeos’ use of government resources — has been slowed by the secretary’s unwillingness to sit for an interview with investigators, three people familiar with the issue said.

Pompeo will leave Foggy Bottom by Jan. 20, the day Joe Biden is expected to be sworn in as president after defeating President Donald Trump in last week’s election. Still, the State Department inspector general’s office, which is supposed to operate as an independent watchdog, is expected to release the results of both of its probes whether or not Pompeo is in office and even if he ultimately avoids an interview.

Separately, Democratic lawmakers are continuing their own investigation into why Pompeo engineered the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick earlier this year; a report is expected before the next Congress takes its oath.

Pompeo also faces investigation by the Office of Special Counsel as to whether he violated laws prohibiting political activity on the taxpayers’ dime.

Overall, the findings of the various probes could nag at Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, if he seeks elected office in the future. The Republican is believed to be eyeing a presidential run in 2024, and he has worked hard to cultivate a good standing among the conservative factions that make up Trump’s political base.

Pompeo has insisted neither he nor his wife have done anything improper. He’s also denied that the investigations affected his decision to ask Trump to fire Linick.

Spokespersons for Pompeo did not respond to requests for comment. The inspector general’s office, which is now headed on an acting basis by U.S. Ambassador Matthew Klimow, said it does not comment on “ongoing investigative work.” The Office of Special Counsel said it does not comment on open investigations; that watchdog unit has discretion as to whether it will keep a case open once the subject of the probe leaves office.

The inspector general’s probe into the Pompeos’ use of State Department resources became public after Linick was ousted in mid-May.

The initial investigation has since effectively turned into two, according to the three people familiar with the issue. One focuses on questions surrounding Susan Pompeo’s traveling alongside her husband. The other is about broader issues of how the Pompeos used taxpayer-funded resources, such as asking State Department employees to run personal errands for them.

A draft of the report on Susan Pompeo’s travel is with top aides to the secretary, according to one of the people familiar with the issue. Typically, the inspector general’s office shares its findings ahead of time with department leaders and includes their response when it officially releases the results.

In July, POLITICO reported on a memo in which various State Department officials disagreed on whether to describe it as acceptable that Susan Pompeo was traveling with her husband to the Middle East during a U.S. government shutdown, quibbling over whether her inclusion was “necessary to national security.” The document was dated Jan. 7, 2019 — the same day the trip started, with Susan Pompeo on the plane.

Pompeo has described his wife as a “force multiplier” and said she’s been helpful in many ways on his trips, including by meeting with the spouses of diplomats posted overseas. He’s also defended her role stateside — she’s been involved in everything from deciding what gifts the department will give to foreign dignitaries to introducing him at various events.

Some State Department employees, however, have argued that Susan Pompeo is playing a far bigger role than the spouses of modern-era secretaries of State typically have. Some said they felt as if she was in their chain of command, even though she didn’t formally work there, and they worried their careers would suffer if they failed to meet her expectations.

The exact parameters of the second report — about the Pompeos’ use of department resources — are not clear.

But there have been complaints from State Department employees and others about everything from the Pompeos’ housing arrangements (they are renting a home on an Army base for an undisclosed sum) to their hosting of gatherings called Madison Dinners for prominent people from various backgrounds — situations Pompeo’s spokespersons have defended as helpful in saving taxpayer funds or promoting the State Department’s brand. One State employee, a longtime Pompeo hand named Toni Porter, told lawmakers that she was asked to help the Pompeos with their personal Christmas cards.

Many within and outside the department also have questioned whether the Pompeos are improperly using their time at the State Department to build up Mike Pompeo’s Rolodex and profile in case he runs for office in the years ahead.

Among those raising such concerns is Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel recently told NBC News that Pompeo is refusing to be interviewed by the inspector general’s investigators.

“I believe he’s trying to run out the clock and avoid investigators until he leaves office,” Engel told NBC News. An aide to Engel confirmed that the committee has learned Pompeo isn’t willing to submit to an interview.

Pompeo also refused to be interviewed by the inspector general’s staff for another major investigation, released earlier this year, about U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Instead, he submitted written answers.

Pompeo has said he was unaware the inspector general’s office was investigating him and his wife’s use of department resources when he asked Trump to fire Linick.

He’s since given shifting accounts as to why he pushed Linick out, including saying that the longtime inspector general was undermining the mission of the State Department. Linick has denied wrongdoing.

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