Acting White House chief of staff faults "career bureaucrats" for seeking to undermine President Trump.
The White House on Thursday delivered a message to any career federal employees who feel discomforted by presidential appointees and politics interfering with their work: “get over it.”
So said acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in a press briefing, during which he faulted “career bureaucrats” for seeking to subvert President Trump for ideological reasons. Mulvaney’s comments were specifically about the role of politics in foreign policy and followed testimony as part of the House’s impeachment inquiry that suggested career Foreign Service officials were increasingly being undermined by political agendas. The chief of staff cited Michael McKinley, a career Foreign Service officer and former ambassador and senior adviser to State Department Secretary Mike Pompeo before he resigned last week. McKinley testified on Wednesday that morale among the career ranks had plummeted due to the growing role of politics in diplomatic efforts.
“He was really upset with the political influence in foreign policy, that was one of the things he was so upset about this,” Mulvaney said. “Well I have news for everybody: get over it.”
He added “there's going to be political influence in foreign policy” and emphasized that “elections have consequences.” The policies under President Obama were bound to change under Trump, he explained, while suggesting what career employees have interpreted as undue political influence was merely a manifestation of those changes. He further drove a theory pervasive among Trump administration officials that there exists a deep state conspiracy among career federal workers to undermine Trump.
“What you’re seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what, I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to take part in this witch hunt that they’re undertaking on the Hill,’ ” Mulvaney said. “Obama did things one way and we’re doing it another way and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
While the White House has said the Trump administration will not comply with any requests made as part of the House Democrats’ impeachment probe, individual employees have opted to provide testimony, and, in some cases, documents to lawmakers. Mulvaney dismissed those former and current officials as “career bureaucrats,” but at least two who have so far testified—special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland—were appointed by Trump.
While American diplomats have always had to bow and bend to the policies of each administration, career employees at State have voiced concerns that under Trump they have been subject to unprecedented retribution and runarounds for political purposes. Coercing any career federal employee to take an action for political purposes is a prohibited personnel practice under U.S. civil service laws. On his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that stands at the center of the impeachment inquiry, Trump said career Foreign Service officer and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was “bad news” and was “going to go through some things.” Former career diplomats and advocates for that workforce have warned about the chilling effect of those comments and the administration’s actions.
Employees at agencies across government have raised red flags about political appointees interfering in their work, from career scientists conducting research to top managers facing sudden reassignments.