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Is Mike Pompeo in Trouble?

19 May 2020 Foreign Policy

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in hot water after inspector general dismissal, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell appear on Capitol Hill, and sparks fly at the World Health Assembly.

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Accusations Against Pompeo Pile Up After IG Dismissal

The phrase “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” is often attributed apocryphally to former U.S. President Harry Truman. For U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, having a dog may be causing him to lose friends—as accusations of malfeasance start to mount.

Blame the Chinese…takeout. Pompeo was already the subject of a whistleblower complaint to Congress in July, when he was charged with tasking diplomatic security with frivolous errands like collecting his dog from the groomer and picking up Chinese takeout (agents complained about being treated as “Uber Eats with guns”). After U.S. President Donald Trump fired the State Department Inspector General Steve Linick last Friday, the question immediately turned to why he was dismissed.

The dismissal appears to be politically motivated. A Democratic congressional aide told Foreign Policy reporters Robbie Gramer and Jack Detsch that Linick was investigating Pompeo for “misuse of a political appointee at the Department to perform personal tasks” for himself and his wife.

Running errands for MBS. On Monday, more accusations surfaced. The Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, said Linick was pursuing a second investigation, at Engel’s request: looking at the decision to sell $8 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia even as a bipartisan coalition in Congress objected.

“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Engel said in a statement to Foreign Policy.

What has Pompeo said? In an interview with the Washington Post, Pompeo said he fired Linick because he was “undermining” the State Department’s mission. He said the move was not a retaliation and denied knowing of any investigations the inspector general was undertaking.

President Trump has defended Pompeo, dismissing the allegations as unimportant. “And now I have you telling me about dog walking, washing dishes and, you know what, I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there or his kids aren’t there, you know,” Trump said.

Under the IG Reform Act, the bar for dismissing an inspector general is high. Sen. Charles Grassley sent a letter to Trump remind him that “an expression of lost confidence, without further explanation, is not sufficient to fulfill the requirements” of the law. Grassley has asked Trump to provide a “detailed reasoning” of the decision to remove Linick before June 1.

Is Pompeo really in the doghouse? Like all cabinet secretaries, Pompeo serves at the pleasure of the president, and can only really be removed by the president. As FP has reported before, Pompeo has been especially adept at executing Trump’s agenda at the State Department—most recently as an attack dog in the war of words with China—so it’s unlikely Trump will sour on him.

It’s remotely possible that Pompeo could be impeached, but it would require the Republican-controlled Senate to strike the knockout blow—a highly unlikely scenario, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly tried to recruit Pompeo into his ranks as the next senator from Kansas.

In a sign that perhaps shows the confidence Pompeo has in his own longevity, he posted a photo of himself on Sunday sitting smiling on his porch steps: In his arms was Mercer, his new puppy.

What We’re Following Today

Sparks fly at World Health Assembly. The World Health Organization has agreed to conduct an investigation into the international response to the coronavirus pandemic, after more than 120 nations co-sponsored a resolution at the World Health Assembly calling for an inquiry. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a review would take place “at the earliest opportunity”.

U.S. Secretary Alex Azar blasted the WHO’s response to the coronavirus pandemic as a “failure” and made a barely veiled jab at China for its role in an alleged coverup. “In an apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak, at least one member state made a mockery of their transparency obligations, with tremendous costs for the entire world,” Azar told the World Health Assembly.

Azar’s Chinese counterpart, Ma Xiaowei, speaking after Azar, asked member states to “oppose rumors, stigmatization and discrimination.” In a message to the assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $2 billion dollars in aid to help other countries—especially the world’s poorest—respond to the pandemic.

U.S. economic policy leaders face Congress. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will both appear this morning before the Senate Banking Committee to discuss the first quarterly report of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Powell has been outspoken in recent days about the need for more action from Congress on stanching the economic wounds of the coronavirus pandemic. On the CBS news program 60 Minutes on Sunday, Powell said that “policies that help businesses avoid avoidable insolvencies and that do the same for individuals” should be the focus of any further economic rescue measures considered by Congress.

All the president’s pills. U.S. President Donald Trump has admitted to taking the drug hydroxychloroquine every day for the past week and a half. Asked why, he replied: “Because I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories.” A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the drug was ineffective against COVID-19 and could lead to heart problems. “If it’s not good … I’m not gonna get hurt by it: it’s been around for 40 years,” Trump added.

Keep an Eye On

Al Qaeda in the U.S. The Saudi gunman who killed three service members at a naval air station in Florida in December had extensive communications with the terrorist group Al Qaeda, according to FBI officials. Attorney General William P. Barr said the gunman, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, who had been training at the base as a Saudi air force cadet, had joined the Saudi military in order to carry out a “special operation.” FBI Director Christopher Wray added that the evidence recently uncovered on Alshamrani’s iPhone showed the attack was “the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation.”

Moderna medicine could be vaccine breakthrough. Drug maker Moderna said it has achieved promising results in the early stages of its coronavirus vaccine trials, as some participants showed an antibody response similar to that of a recovered coronavirus patient when exposed to the virus. The study, which is taking place in collaboration with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Vaccine Research Center, is still in early stages, and the human subjects were only exposed to a very low dose of the virus. “These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with [the candidate vaccine] elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection starting with a dose as low as 25 micrograms,” said Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer. The company said it would continue testing the vaccine with slightly higher doses of the virus.

Afghan peace talks. The U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, travelled to Doha on Sunday for talks with the Taliban according to a statement from the U.S. State Department. Khalilzad’s travel will include talks with the Afghan government in Kabul, the first since the signing of a power sharing agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah. The Kabul meeting will “explore steps the Afghan government needs to take to make intra-Afghan negotiations begin as soon as possible,” according to the statement.

Odds and Ends

For any quarantine trivia experts: What links together soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, beloved actress Lucille Ball, and the Burkinabé socialist revolutionary Thomas Sankara?

The answer is that they have all been immortalized in bronze only for those sculptures to be replaced by new ones after public outcry.

Sankara, who was assassinated in 1987, joins the list of those receiving reworked memorials as his sculpture was unveiled a second time in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, on Sunday. The sculptor, Jean Luc Bambara, blamed the hot weather for the initial sculpture’s poor reception, as it had caused the original cast to melt and distort Sankara’s handsome features. “It’s hard to say whether one can 100 percent capture Thomas Sankara, but what we have [now] represents him and that’s what matters most,” Burkina Faso’s Foreign Affairs Minister Alpha Barry said.

That’s it for today. 

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Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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