Two close aides to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a colleague she could take her time before talking to the State Department inspector general’s office for an investigation into Pompeo and his wife.
The two Pompeo aides appeared to be hinting that the probe could fade away — “resolve itself,” in the words of the fellow staff member. Pompeo, after all, had recently managed to have the inspector general fired.
The interactions were described by the staffer, Toni Porter, in a voluntary interview with congressional investigators examining what led to the ouster of the inspector general, Steve Linick. House Democrats released transcripts of the interview with Porter, as well as another of her colleagues, Lisa Kenna, on Friday.
The State Department inspector general’s office has been looking into Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan’s use of taxpayer resources. Among the allegations is that the Pompeos relied on Porter to carry out personal errands for them even while she has been on the State Department’s payroll.
In her interview, Porter acknowledged handling some tasks that could be described as “personal” for the Pompeos, including helping them with Christmas cards.
Porter has worked for Pompeo, a former CIA chief and Kansas congressman, in multiple capacities over the years. When he took over the State Department, he brought her on as an adviser.
Pompeo also hired two of his former West Point classmates and closest friends, Brian Bulatao and Ulrich Brechbuhl. Bulatao is now the undersecretary of State for management, while Brechbuhl serves as a de facto chief of staff.
Porter said she told Brechbuhl in early to mid-June of this year that the inspector general’s office had reached out to her seeking an interview.
“He said that it would probably be unpleasant, but that I would need to do it because it’s required, but that there was — there wasn’t any specific timeline in which I would need to give the interview,” Porter said, according to the transcript.
When pressed on why Brechbuhl would have mentioned the timeline issue, Porter said: “I believe he thought that it was possible the investigation would resolve itself without my input.”
Porter said she had a similar conversation with Bulatao around the same time. She said that he answered along similar lines, that “it’s probably going to be unpleasant, and there’s no reason to hurry and get it on the calendar.”
Pompeo had successfully persuaded President Donald Trump to fire Linick a few weeks earlier, in mid-May.
Linick’s ouster shocked the department, as well as Congress. He was one of several inspectors general sidelined by Trump, despite longstanding norms that protect the leaders of these watchdog offices, which are supposed to be independent of the departments they oversee.
The night Linick was booted, House Foreign Affairs Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) revealed that the inspector general’s office had been investigating Pompeo. That investigation continues, despite Linick’s ouster and multiple changes at the top of the inspector general’s office since.
Pompeo, however, insisted in the days afterward that he did not know about that investigation when he asked Trump to fire Linick. And Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has written to lawmakers that while some of Pompeo’s top aides knew of the probe, none of them told the secretary of State about it.
The State Department public affairs office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday afternoon. Neither did Porter, Brechbuhl, Kenna, Bulatao and others POLITICO tried to reach. Pompeo has in the past dismissed the claim that he and his wife misused department resources.
Porter, however, told congressional investigators that she has at times felt uncomfortable with some of the tasks the Pompeos have given her. The example she cited was that she was asked to help them with their personal Christmas cards.
When asked why this made her uncomfortable, she said, “Because I was at the State Department.” But she said that, unlike in other situations, she had not contacted an ethics lawyer about it, because “it was a real-time sort of activity and there was not time to contact the ethics attorney.”
Porter confirmed that she was a key point of contact for Susan Pompeo at the State Department and that others at the department knew to reach out to her when they wanted to do something involving Susan Pompeo. Porter would help “deconflict” the secretary and his wife’s calendars, she added.
She said she had helped make dinner reservations for the Pompeos as a family once or twice a month, another errand that could be considered personal as opposed to official government duty.
Porter also acknowledged assisting Susan Pompeo and State Department officials in arranging the so-called Madison Dinners.
The dinners involved high-profile figures from Washington and beyond and were ostensibly meant to showcase the State Department. But some department officials have raised concerns that the events may have been designed to burnish Mike Pompeo’s political Rolodex ahead of future runs for office.
The other person who spoke to investigators was Kenna, who serves as the State Department executive secretary. That is a key position that oversees much of the communications traffic in the department, and she was asked about a variety of issues.
Kenna frequently said she did not recall information she was asked about. But she did say that she had received document requests from the inspector general’s office in March, several weeks before Linick was fired.
She said the watchdog office did not specify what the investigation was about, but that it wanted documents related to
“family travel” — referring to trips that included Susan Pompeo. Those documents, she said, were handed over after May 15, the day Linick was informed he was being fired.
Since mid-May, Pompeo has given several reasons for why he wanted Linick gone, alleging that he was a “bad actor” and bad at his job.
Linick, who was appointed to the role in 2013, has said he was stunned to be fired. He also has described how he alerted top Pompeo aides, including Bulatao, about the probe into Pompeo and his wife.
Linick was first replaced on an acting basis by Stephen Akard, an ally of Vice President Mike Pence who also held another diplomatic position that raised conflict of interest issues.
Akard recused himself from investigations that involved Pompeo, including one about his role in pushing through arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite congressional objections. But Akard quit the department completely less than three months after taking on the acting inspector general role.
The unit was briefly led by Deputy Inspector General Diana Shaw. A few days ago, the department quietly named a new acting inspector general, Matthew Klimow, who has been the U.S. ambassador to Turkmenistan.