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Defying precedent and possibly law, Pompeo dives into race

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint statement to the press with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting, in Jerusalem, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint statement to the press with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting, in Jerusalem, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP) (UPI)

WASHINGTON – Casting aside his own advice to American diplomats and bulldozing a long tradition of secretary of state non-partisanship, Mike Pompeo plunged into the heart of the 2020 presidential race Tuesday with a speech supporting Donald Trump’s reelection.

The address was roundly condemned by Democrats and others as an inappropriate breach of decades of diplomatic precedent and a possible violation of federal law prohibiting executive branch employees from overt political activism while on duty. Indeed, Pompeo himself had reminded State Department staffers of those restrictions only last month. Yet he went ahead with the speech, which was recorded in Jerusalem during an official visit to the Middle East, over strident objections, complaints of hypocrisy and the threat of a congressional investigation.

Although the State Department maintained Pompeo was speaking in his personal capacity without any U.S. government support or staffing — therefore, legally — the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee identified him a “secretary of state” in previews of his convention remarks.

But while the venue and audience were extraordinary and perhaps problematic, the content of Pompeo’s roughly four-minute speech would not have been out of place in any number of his previous public appearances either at home or abroad.

Pompeo delivered standard recitations of GOP claims about the successes of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy against Russia, China and Iran. He said they made his family — wife Susan and son Nick — and all Americans safer. He spoke of the defeat of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate, Trump’s pro-Israel agenda and the president’s determined vigilance to guard against the “predatory aggression” of the Chinese Communist Party.

It was material Pompeo has repeated countless times before audiences foreign and domestic at think-tank events, media interviews and press conferences that have seldom been met with raised eyebrows. In fact, Pompeo’s convention speech was relatively mild in comparison with previous comments he has made taking Democrats to task for failed policies.

In an apparent nod to concerns about the appearance, which congressional Democrats allege is in violation of the Hatch Act prohibiting executive branch employees from partisan activity, Pompeo did not attack Trump’s opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, by name or even mention the Democratic party. He limited his remarks to a defense of Trump and the policies of the administration — something all secretaries of state do, albeit not at their party conventions.

Widely considered to be interested in seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, Pompeo did not expressly urge voters to cast their ballots for Trump. Instead he limited his exhortation to the observation that “the way each of us can best ensure our freedoms is by electing leaders who don’t just talk, but deliver.”