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Ex-Palin Aide Lands Job at Trump’s State Department

The former Alaska governor’s “go-to girl” for communications and Christian outreach has found a new home in Foggy Bottom.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12:  A sign stand outside the U.S. State Department September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 12: A sign stand outside the U.S. State Department September 12, 2012 in Washington, DC. U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The woman credited with smoothing over Donald Trump’s relations with evangelical Christians and shaping the image of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has snagged a job at the State Department, Foreign Policy has learned.

Pam Pryor, the Trump campaign’s leader of “faith and Christian outreach” is vetting personnel and coordinating policy issues from her perch inside the Office of International Religious Freedom, according to two officials who spotted Pryor in her new digs.

The office is expected to gain a higher profile under the Trump administration as it carries out White House directives to prioritize the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and more aggressively call out Muslim-majority governments for failing to protect religious minorities.

Pryor is currently a member of the State Department’s beachhead team, a group of enforcers tasked with putting in place the people and policies that align with the Trump White House. A formal role for Pryor isn’t expected to be announced for several weeks.

A State Department spokesperson declined to outline Pryor’s responsibilities, but a separate source familiar with her activities said she’s been vetting candidates for the job of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a shortlist that includes Ken Starr, the attorney best known for his controversial investigations into Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

“It’s my understanding that it’s his job if he wants it,” said an individual familiar with the process.

Pryor burst onto the national stage during the 2008 presidential election as Palin’s “go-to girl” and confidante, and later served as the spokeswoman for Palin’s political action committee and her national political adviser. Palin endorsed Trump in a freewheeling speech to Iowa voters last January, a risky gamble at the time considering the real estate mogul’s outsider status.

Pryor boasts a strong network of social conservatives and religious leaders and has been credited with helping allay concerns many Christian leaders had with Trump, a crass-talking twice-divorced former reality TV star who stumbled through bible verse recitations in the primaries.

Despite his awkward courtship of the Christian right, Trump dominated the white evangelical vote, 80-16 percent, according to exit polls, the most they’ve supported a GOP presidential candidate since 2004.

In recent interviews, Trump has promised to do more than the Obama administration to protect Christians from extremists who are “chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians.”

“We’re going to help them,” Trump told the Christian broadcaster CBN last month. “They’ve been horribly treated.”

Supporters will be watching closely for who he picks for the top post at the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Though best known for uncovering details of Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, Starr took an interest in religious freedom issues in his role as president of Baylor University in Texas from 2010 to 2016. “He’s been very, very strong on the issue,” Frank Wolf, a former Republican congressman and religious freedom advocate, told FP. The university has been organizing conferences and sending letters on the issue, he added. Starr left Baylor in 2016 amid criticisms of the university’s handling of a series of sexual assault cases under his watch. 

Other rumored candidates include Johnnie Moore, Jr., the former “special faith adviser” to Ben Carson and Nina Shea, a human rights lawyer at the conservative Hudson Institute.

Shea denied any interest in the position in an interview with FP, but said from her discussions, the Trump administration would break sharply with the Obama administration on religious freedom issues.

She said the Trump administration is likely to crack down on Saudi textbooks that denigrate Christians and Jews, take a firmer opposition to discriminatory blasphemy laws in Pakistan and swear off “apologizing for private speech in the United States that offends” Muslims. She referred specifically to the 2012 U.S. video titled “Innocence of Muslims” that sparked protests throughout the Muslim world and prompted condemnation from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Countering radical Islam should be a diplomatic priority,” she said.

The Obama administration expressly avoided using the words “radical Islam” out of concern that such language would energize extremists and create the impression that the United States was fighting a holy war against a religion with 1.6 billion adherents.

This article has been updated. 

John Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013. @john_hudson

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