During testimony, State official offers support to employees castigated by Trump and others.
The State Department has set up a program to provide financial assistance to employees asked to testify before Congress in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, promising those individuals will not face any discipline as a result of their cooperation with lawmakers.
The offer was announced Wednesday during testimony from State Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale, who testified to the House Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing impeachment probe into Trump’s actions surrounding Ukraine. The message marked a departure from the department’s previous tone, when Secretary Mike Pompeo said he would not allow any of his employees to cooperate with the inquiry.
Hale, quoting a letter written by State Department Undersecretary for Management Brian Bulatao to Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said the department “proactively established a program” to provide the financial assistance related to private counsel legal fees. No State employee who has testified has faced adverse action, Bulatao wrote in the letter, and—provided they are appearing under subpoena—no one will face discipline.
The financial assistance offer follows an effort by the American Foreign Service Association, the union for foreign service officers, to solicit pro bono legal services and donations for a legal defense fund. State did not respond to inquiries about the details of its program.
In his own words, Hale, a career ambassador and foreign service officer, took time to defend former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who previously testified to the committee. Yovanovitch was subject to a smear campaign prior to her recall from Ukraine earlier this year and, with great controversy, State and Pompeo declined to issue a statement of support at that time. Hale said Yovanovitch was an “exceptional officer doing exceptional work” and agreed that what she went through was wrong.
During her testimony last week, Yovanovitch spoke about the impacts the Trump administration's actions have on federal employees.
“I think that it has had exactly that, a chilling effect, not only in embassy Kyiv but throughout the State Department because people don’t know kind of whether their efforts to pursue our stated policy are going to be supported and that is a dangerous place to be,” she said.
Hale also offered supportive words to State’s employees writ large, many of whom have been disparaged by Trump, congressional Republicans and others throughout the impeachment proceedings for perceived disloyalty and bias.
“I support and believe in the institution and the people of the State Department. I am one of them. I have been for 35 years,” Hale said. “All of us are committed to the national security of this country and we make up the best diplomats anywhere in the world. That support extends to all State officers who have testified before this committee.”
Asked during a press briefing this week why State has not stood up more forcefully for department employees who have come under fire during impeachment proceedings, Pompeo initially declined to discuss the topic.
“I’m not going to get into the issues surrounding the Democrat impeachment inquiry,” the secretary said. “Just not going to do it today.”
When pressed on why he was not offering more support to his workforce, Pompeo added: “I always defend State Department employees. The greatest diplomatic corps in the history of the world. Very proud of the team.”