Report finds Pompeo broke law by delivering 2020 convention speech from Israel

Former US secretary of state violated Hatch Act regulations by addressing Republican National Convention from Jerusalem, US government watchdog group says

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

In this image from video, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks from Jerusalem during the second night of the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)
In this image from video, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks from Jerusalem during the second night of the Republican National Convention on August 25, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via AP)

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo violated US federal law when he delivered a convention speech from Jerusalem last year, a watchdog group said in a report released Tuesday.

The US Office of Special Counsel said Pompeo violated the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that limits political activity by executive branch personnel, when he delivered a Republican National Convention speech from Israel in support of former US president Donald Trump’s reelection. The office is an independent federal investigation agency.

The report also said former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman violated the law on a separate occasion.

Pompeo violated the law by changing US State Department policy to allow himself to speak at the event, and by using his official authority to campaign for Trump’s reelection, the report said.

Pompeo changed the policy against his participation in partisan activities around August 21, 2020, days before delivering the speech from Jerusalem, against the advice of State Department lawyers, although at the time, Pompeo’s aides claimed government lawyers had approved the event.

He delivered the videotaped speech from Jerusalem while on official State Department travel. The speech was under four minutes long and covered issues pertaining to his official position, including Iran’s nuclear program, the Abraham Accords, and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

A video of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaking during the Republican National Convention plays from the Rose Garden of the White House, on August 25, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The speech was filmed during a diplomatic mission, used the Old City of Jerusalem as a backdrop and highlighted Trump’s foreign policy moves.

“His reference to his wife and son at the beginning of the speech appears intended to convey that he was speaking in a personal capacity. But even assuming that were true, Secretary Pompeo nevertheless violated the Hatch Act by repeatedly discussing the Trump administration’s foreign policy accomplishments,” the report said.

Trump’s campaign argued that Pompeo didn’t break the law because he focused on US policy, not Trump. The Office of Special Counsel said it had no evidence Pompeo’s change of policy was “driven by a measured reconsideration of the underlying policy rationale for the existing restrictions.”

Then-acting secretary of US homeland security Chad Wolf also violated the law during the convention by presiding over a naturalization ceremony for the convention, the report said.

US President Donald Trump looks at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he participates in a Cabinet meeting at the White House on July 16, 2019 in Washington,DC. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

“It appears that both violations stemmed from requests that originated within the White House — or, in Secretary Pompeo’s case, possibly the Trump campaign or President Trump himself — and thus they reflect the Trump administration’s willingness to manipulate government business for partisan political ends,” the report said.

The Trump campaign brushed off concerns about the Hatch Act at the time, with the White House chief of staff telling Politico at one point, “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares.”

Friedman violated the Hatch Act by giving an interview in his official capacity to Al-Ain on October 4 in support of Trump’s reelection campaign.

In total, the report said 11 Trump administration officials violated the Hatch Act on 18 different occasions by campaigning for Trump while acting in an official capacity, including Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, Kayleigh McEnany, Mark Meadows, Stephen Miller and Robert O’Brien.

“While speaking as government officials, and purportedly presenting the official position of the United States of America, not the Trump campaign, they repeatedly promoted President Trump’s candidacy and attacked candidates Biden and Harris,” the report said.

The Hatch Act does not limit the activities of the president and vice president.

Trump held the Republican National Convention at the White House in a move that shattered precedent and sparked widespread ethical concerns.

A separate report earlier this year found that Pompeo repeatedly misused government resources and personnel during his tenure.

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