Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to media in Jerusalem on Monday. During the visit he took time out to record a message for the RNC, aired on Tuesday night. (Photo by Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – In a speech recorded in Jerusalem earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised President Trump for foreign policies including moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel “to this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland.”
The address to the Republican National Convention has stoked controversy, given Pompeo’s position as the nation’s top diplomat. He was listed in the lineup as “The Honorable Mike Pompeo,” rather than as secretary of state.
Introducing himself, simply, as “Mike Pompeo … speaking to you from beautiful Jerusalem, looking out over the Old City,” he went on, “I have a big job – as Susan’s husband and Nick’s Dad.”
“Susan and Nick are more safe, and their freedoms more secure, because President Trump has put his America First vision into action,” he said. “It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it’s worked.”
The Biden campaign slammed Pompeo for giving the speech, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) requested an investigation into whether it violated the 1939 Hatch Act, which restricts federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty.
Both the Biden campaign and CAIR – which calls itself the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group – accused Pompeo of using Israel as a “prop” for political purposes.
The speech, a little under four minutes in length, did not focus primarily on Trump’s policies relating to Israel, although in addition to embassy reference, Pompeo did mention the United Arab Emirates’ recent agreement to normalize relations with Israel – only the third Arab country to do so, and the first in 26 years.
“The president brokered an historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” he said. “This is the deal that our grandchildren will read about in their history books.”
Elsewhere, the speech touched on administration policies pushing back on the Iranian and North Korean regimes, ISIS terrorists, “Russian aggression” – and China, where Pompeo said Trump had “pulled back the curtain on the predatory aggression of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Pompeo, who speaks openly about his faith, ended by referring to another evangelical Christian, a pastor held by the Turks for two years, tried on terror and spying charges, but finally released and returned home in October 2018.
“An American hostage imprisoned in Turkey for two years, Pastor Andrew Brunson, said upon his release that he survived his ordeal with these words of scripture, ‘Be faithful, endure and finish well,’” Pompeo said. “If we stay the course, we will.”
Pompeo recorded the speech while visiting the Israeli capital earlier this week, before heading to Sudan and then Bahrain, where he was when the clip was aired on Tuesday night.
The State Department said earlier that Pompeo would be addressing the convention in his personal capacity, and that there would be no use of departmental resources or staff.
Even before it was broadcast the speech drew sharp criticism from Biden campaign spokesperson Kate Bedingfield, who said Pompeo’s “decision to serve as an errand boy for the president’s re-election on a taxpayer-funded diplomatic mission, and his decision to use one of our closest partners as a political prop in the process, is absolutely disgraceful.”
CAIR’s director of government affairs, Robert McCaw, asked the State Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate whether Pompeo’s speech violated the Hatch Act, complaining that it “strategically utilizes his presence in Jerusalem as a prop for partisan political gain.”
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the outgoing chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a release cited a cable sent by Pompeo to U.S. diplomatic posts last month, stating among other things that presidential appointees “may not engage in any partisan political activity in concert with a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, even on personal time and outside of the federal workplace.”
The Office of the Special Counsel is the independent executive agency charged with enforcing the Hatch Act.
A Q&A section on its website includes this entry:
When engaging in political activity (i.e., activity directed at the success or failure of a political party, partisan political candidate, or partisan political group), such as speaking at campaign events, may a Cabinet secretary use the title ‘Secretary’?
No. Hatch Act regulation states that an employee may not use his or her official title while participating in political activity. Accordingly, a Cabinet secretary may not use the official title ‘Secretary’ when engaging in political activity, such as speaking at a political campaign event. However, a Cabinet secretary may use a general form of address, such as ‘The Honorable,’ when engaging in political activity, as such address does not identify his or her position.
In an op-ed early this year, the head of the office, Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner, wrote:
Most federal employees, in their personal capacity, off the clock and away from the workplace, may actively participate in political parties and campaigns, as long as they do not fundraise.
It is just a small number of employees who, given their agencies’ sensitive missions, are subject to additional restrictions.
But even these employees, along with the rest of the federal workforce, are free to give full voice to their political views and express their support for or opposition to candidates and political parties, as long as they do so in their personal capacity and not while at work.