House Democrats are widening an investigation into whether Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump COVID-19 result raises pressure on Pompeo GOP Sen. Thom Tillis tests positive for coronavirus Pelosi tests negative for COVID-19 MORE is illegally campaigning for the president ahead of the November election.
Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelDemocrats introduce bill to combat sexual harassment at State Department Overnight Defense: Congress recommends nuclear arms treaty be extended | Dems warn Turkey | Military’s eighth COVID death identified Democrats warn Turkey over involvement in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroCalls for COVID-19 tests at Capitol grow after Trump tests positive Democrats introduce bill to combat sexual harassment at State Department Disinformation, QAnon efforts targeting Latino voters ramp up ahead of presidential election MORE (D-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter Monday to the State Department demanding the agency’s legal guidance over at least three recent speeches Pompeo delivered in the U.S.
This includes speeches to the Wisconsin state legislature and a church in Texas in September and a speech Saturday at an event for the anti-abortion advocacy organization the Florida Family Policy Council.
Pompeo was originally expected to deliver his remarks in person, where attendees paid upward of $10,000 for tickets to secure a personal visit with the secretary, CNN reported.
Pompeo rescheduled his remarks, delivering them remotely from Washington out of an abundance of caution following President TrumpDonald John TrumpQuestions remain unanswered as White House casts upbeat outlook on Trump’s COVID-19 fight White House staffers get email saying to stay home if they experience coronavirus symptoms White House says ‘appropriate precautions’ were taken for Trump’s outing to see supporters MORE’s positive diagnosis of COVID-19.
But his participation in the event one month before the election is adding to outrage from congressional Democrats with oversight of foreign affairs. Trump is trailing Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenQuestions remain unanswered as White House casts upbeat outlook on Trump’s COVID-19 fight CNN anchor confronts senior Trump campaign adviser after motorcade: Trump’s ‘downplaying the virus’ Biden again tests negative for COVID-19 MORE in Florida, according to the most recent poll published by Siena College and The New York Times.
“It is concerning that the Secretary is suddenly crisscrossing the country at taxpayers’ expense to speak with state legislators and private groups and that these events appear to be increasing in frequency as the November 3rd election approaches,” Engel and Castro wrote in the letter.
It was sent to Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao and acting Legal Adviser Marik String, two close allies of Pompeo.
The documents requested by House Democrats builds on an investigation launched in August over whether Pompeo violated the Hatch Act by delivering pre-recorded remarks to the Republican National Convention while he was on diplomatic travel in Israel.
The Hatch Act prohibits federal officials from using their government positions for partisan political activity. In June, Pompeo sent out communications and guidance to State Department employees barring staff from participating in political activity.
But the secretary has defended his speech to the convention from Jerusalem, saying he did so in his personal capacity and that he was given the green light from the State Department legal team that determined his participation was “lawful.”
Democrats have rejected this reasoning out of hand.
“The Secretary of State is our country’s top diplomat, responsible for representing all of America to the rest of the world, not the narrow interests of a particular president or political party,” Engel and Castro wrote in the letter.
The Democratic lawmakers also raised concern that Reince Preibus, President Trump’s former chief of staff and the former chairman of the Republican Party, traveled with Pompeo to his speech in Wisconsin last month. Preibus’s involvement was first reported by CNN.
Pompeo’s speech to Wisconsin’s state legislature, which Wisconsin Democrats boycotted for violating health guidelines related to COVID-19, was billed as an awareness campaign to threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
But the secretary’s participation was criticized as a stump speech for the president in a key swing state.
Polls taken before the presidential debate and Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis showed the president trailing Biden in Wisconsin.
“The nexus of speeches about the Secretary’s personal religious beliefs, to a swing-state legislature accompanied by a former senior Republican party official, and at a paid-access event for an anti-abortion advocacy group, to the Secretary’s official duties as America’s lead diplomat is unclear and possibly illegal,” Engel and Castro wrote in their letter.
The lawmakers called for the State Department to hand over any legal guidance related to Pompeo’s speeches at a church in Texas on Sept. 20, his speech to the Wisconsin legislature Sept. 25 and his speech to the Florida Family Policy Council on Oct. 3.
The lawmakers are also raising concern over what orders Trump is giving Pompeo on such speeches and is requesting communications from the White House to the State Department. They noted in their letter that the State Department’s legal team had reviewed in 2019 a request by Trump for Pompeo to participate in a campaign rally. The secretary had declined to participate over the legal concerns, according to Castro, who raised the issue in a foreign affairs hearing last month.
The records request is yet another benchmark of tensions between House Democrats and Pompeo, who have clashed repeatedly.
Engel has stepped back from holding Pompeo in contempt, halting procedures last month following the delayed delivery to House Democrats of tens of thousands of documents from the State Department related to an investigation being conducted by Senate Republicans.
Democrats are also investigating whether it was politically motivated when State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired by Trump in mid-May at Pompeo’s request.
Linick was conducting at least two investigations into Pompeo’s conduct at the agency at the time. An investigation into Pompeo’s use of an emergency declaration to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and without the approval from Congress was published in August and affirmed that the secretary acted within his legal authority, although Democrats have raised concerns that the reports findings suggest a manufactured emergency to justify the arms sales.
The second investigation, into whether Pompeo and his wife misused federal resources for personal benefit, is believed to be ongoing.