WASHINGTON — The State Department’s internal watchdog has concluded that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife violated federal ethics rules by asking staffers to run personal errands and perform non-official work such as making restaurant reservations, shopping and caring for their dog.
In a report released on Friday, the department’s inspector general concluded that those requests were “inconsistent” with the regulations. But, because Pompeo is no longer a federal employee and not subject to federal disciplinary or other measures, it did not call for any action against the former secretary who left office on Jan. 20 at the end of the Trump administration.
Instead, it recommended that the State Department clarify its policies to better define tasks that are inappropriate for staffers under the ethics rules and make it easier to report alleged violations. The department accepted all of the recommendations in its response to the report.
Pompeo and his attorney strongly denied the allegations contained in the inspector general’s report, which said the former secretary and his wife, Susan, “made over 100 requests to employees in the office of the secretary to conduct work that appeared to be personal in nature.” Pompeo’s lawyer noted that the report identifies only a handful of questionable requests and that those did not amount to violations of the rules.
The report identified inappropriate tasks as including “picking up personal items, planning events unrelated to the department’s mission, and conducting such personal business as pet care and mailing personal Christmas cards.” Many of those requests were directed to a long-time assistant of the Pompeos who was hired by the State Department as a senior adviser to the secretary.
It said it had found evidence that Susan Pompeo had “on several occasions” instructed the adviser to plan events for groups with which the Pompeos had nongovernmental relationships. It said it had identified at least 30 instances in which either the secretary or his wife told staffers to make restaurant reservations for personal lunches and dinners.
The inspector general “found that such requests were inconsistent with department ethics rules and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch,” the report said.
In an interview with investigators in late December, Pompeo said he had not paid that staffer or others separately for work that he either considered to be related to government business or to be minimal favors that long-time acquaintances would routinely do for each other, according to the report.
The inspector general, however, noted that there was no exception in the ethics rules for minimal personal favors. “Rather, the standards prohibit any use of a subordinate’s time to perform personal activities unless compensation is paid,” it said.
In a response appended to the report, the lawyer, William Burck, alleged that the report was biased and unfit for publication. Pompeo had shaken up the inspector general’s office by firing its former chief in a move that critics alleged was aimed at halting potentially embarrassing investigations into his tenure at the department.
“The poor quality of the report bespeaks not merely unprofessionalism in its drafting but also bias, which we are concerned may be politically motivated,” Burck said. He said the report was “not fit for publication” and demanded evidence to support the investigators’ claims that the Pompeos had made more than 100 inappropriate requests of staffers.
In its response to the report, the State Department made no judgement on the findings but did accept the recommendations.
“The department appreciates the work of the Office of Inspector General, and, as the report notes, concurs with all the recommendations and will proceed to implement them,” it said.
Story by Matthew Lee, AP Diplomatic Writer