Secretary of State Pompeo refuses to defend specific employees but says his workforce is the best "in the history of the world."
President Trump has heightened his attacks on career federal employees in recent days as the House continues to hold public impeachment hearings, labeling those who have provided testimony as biased and disloyal to the county.
In the latest example, Trump on Sunday tweeted that Jennifer Williams, a career State Department employee currently on assignment to the Office of Vice President Mike Pence, is a “Never Trumper” working in concert with others involved in the impeachment probe to make the president look bad. Williams said that Trump’s July call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was “inappropriate” due to his request for assistance in investigating a political opponent, according to a recently released transcript of her deposition.
That followed an earlier Trump tweet in which he quoted conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh as saying he was elected president to drain the swamp and “dismissing people like [former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie] Yovanovitch is what that looks like.” Continuing to quote Limbaugh, Trump said, “Dismissing people like [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George] Kent and [current U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor], dismissing everybody involved from the Obama holdover days trying to undermine Trump, getting rid of those people, dismissing them, this is what it looks like. It was never going to be clean, they were never going to sit by idly and just let Trump do this.”
Kent and Yovanovitch are career federal employees who currently work for State. Taylor is a former career employee who Trump recalled from retirement to serve in Ukraine. During Yovanovitch’s testimony last week, Trump tweeted that everywhere she served “turned bad” and that he has an “absolute right” to appoint ambassadors. Trump and State Secretary Mike Pompeo, however, have faced allegations of encouraging and enabling a denigration of Yovanovitch’s reputation for political purposes.
During her public testimony last week, Yovanovitch was asked about the impact 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.
Last month, Trump tweeted that he and his supporters “forcefully condemn” the “rogue bureaucrats of the Deep State.” On Friday, his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., dismissed those testifying in the hearings as “career government bureaucrats and nothing more,” saying Trump was elected specifically to fire them.
Asked during a press briefing on Monday why State has not stood up more forcefully for department employees who have come under fire during impeachment proceedings, Pompeo initially declined to do so.
“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.” When asked specifically about Trump’s criticism of Yovanovitch, however, Pompeo said, “I’ll defer to the White House.” He also declined to say whether he and Trump still have confidence in Bill Taylor.
Eric Rubin, a former ambassador and current president of the American Foreign Service Association, called for greater support for career diplomats. AFSA has solicited pro bono legal services for members caught up in the impeachment inquiry, as well as donations for a legal defense fund.
“These patriots go abroad to every corner of the world and serve the interests of the American people,” Rubin said. “They proudly carry out the nation’s foreign policy and advance America’s security and prosperity. They do so with integrity and have no partisan or hidden agenda. Their only allegiance is to the Constitution and to the country they love. We should honor the service of each and every one of them.”
In his July call that now sits at the center of the impeachment inquiry, Trump said that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.” Former State officials have said the administration’s actions and comments could lead to not just sinking morale but employees who are afraid to voice their opinions or take difficult assignments. Michael McKinley, a former ambassador and career foreign service officer who most recently served as a senior adviser to Pompeo, testified in a closed deposition last month that he resigned over the lack of public support for Yovanovitch.
“It had a very significant effect on morale, and the silence from the department was viewed as puzzling and baffling,” McKinley said.