Special Counsel’s office to investigate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for political speech violations

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Has there ever been a presidential cabinet that has been subject to more investigations into their ethical violations than the “only the best people” appointed by Donald Trump to serve beneath him?

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Certainly not in recent memory, but with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now under investigation “for potentially violating a federal law that forbids federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or while inside federal buildings over his address to the Republican convention in August,” as CNN reports, that record of misdeeds seems unlikely to be eclipsed anytime soon.

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Pompeo now joins former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in facing allegations of serious ethical lapses during their time in the Trump administration, and that’s just the list of those accused who have already left the administration.

Equally serious charges of lapses in ethics and violations of regulations have also been lodged against other sitting cabinet members like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Unlike the other cabinet members, however, Pompeo’s alleged transgression has less to do with personal enrichment and use of unwarranted perks at taxpayer expense, and more to do with naked political ambition and the use of his office for purposes of gaining an illegal partisan advantage.

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Two top House Democrats told CNN that the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency, has now launched a probe into Pompeo’s speech to the Republican National Convention while on a taxpayer-funded trip to Jerusalem in August.

“Our offices have confirmed that the Office of Special Counsel has launched a probe into potential Hatch Act violations tied to Secretary Pompeo’s speech to the Republican National Convention,” Rep. Ellot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Rep. Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriations, wrote in a joint statement.

“This information comes on the heels of reporting that OSC is also looking into Secretary Pompeo’s stated commitment to rush out more of Hillary Clinton’s emails by Election Day and as the Secretary has misused State Department resources on his speech tour of swing states,” the two Democrats reported.
“As we get closer to both this year’s election and his own inevitable return to electoral politics, Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the Administration’s, and his own, political ambitions,” the lawmakers said.
Since this new investigation is being conducted by the independent Office of the Special Counsel rather than the State Department’s own Inspector General. Pompeo may not find the probe as easy to avoid as earlier efforts to hold him accountable for his potential misuse of taxpayer resources.
Among the other issues that Congressional Democrats are investigating Pompeo for is his involvement in the dismissal of the State Department Inspector General, Steve Linick, who had been looking into five matters of potential wrongdoing at the State Department at the time of his ouster, including the Secretary’s alleged use of a political appointee as a domestic personal assistant and Trump’s controversial bypassing of Congress to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia.
Representatives Engel and Lowry also pointed out that the State Department under Secretary Pompeo has “repeatedly missed Congressional overseers’ deadlines for producing documents on his recent domestic speeches that will help us understand whether they were improper political activities. So we’re grateful to OSC—whom Mr. Pompeo can’t fire as he did the Inspector General—for looking into this matter.”
With the prospect of unemployment looming if the polls predicting a massive victory for Joe Biden in the presidential race prove to be correct, Pompeo should be concerned that the Office of the Special Counsel investigation will last longer than his remaining tenure in office and complicate any future political ambitions he may hold.

If the investigation uncovers definitive proof of his violation of the Hatch Act, Pompeo could join the other former Trump cabinet members in the unofficial hall of ignominy reserved for the most “swampy” of our current president’s associates. Unfortunately, it’s not a very exclusive club.

Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter. 

Original reporting by Nicole Gaouette and Kylie Atwood at CNN.

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Vinnie Longobardo

Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile, & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music, and art.

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