Report

Top Democratic Lawmakers Sound Alarm on Trump ‘Loyalty Tests’ for State Department Officials

A letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo follows Foreign Policy’s report.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 15, 2017 (Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 15, 2017 (Zach Gibson/AFP/Getty Images)

Top Democratic lawmakers are asking U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for more information regarding a Trump administration political appointee who was quietly vetting career diplomats and others to see if they were sufficiently loyal to the president.

Foreign Policy reported last week that Mari Stull, a senior advisor at the State Department Bureau of International Organization Affairs, was scouring social media to gauge the personal and political views of the bureau’s employees. The report cited nearly a dozen State Department officials.

In a letter sent to Pompeo on Tuesday, the lawmakers said they were “alarmed” by the measure, which some State Department employees feared would politicize the ranks of career professionals.

“These allegations track closely with the many reports our Committees have received over the past 18 months alleging political attacks on State Department career employees,” wrote Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with several other key lawmakers.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member on the powerful Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, co-authored the letter.

The lawmakers requested Pompeo provide the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee with all documents related to Stull’s efforts to categorize or vet career State Department employees, communications between Stull and other political appointees relating to lists of career State Department employees and international institution employees, and documents relating to political appointees assessing political views of career government officials.

They also expressed frustration that Pompeo, now almost two months into his new job, still hasn’t followed through on his initial vows to provide Congress with internal documents relating to political retaliation against career officials.

The letter comes as many members of Congress, particularly Democrats, are sounding alarms about officials appointed by President Donald Trump punishing career officials for carrying out policies of the Obama administration as part of their work, breaking with precedent established by Republican and Democratic administrations alike. According to one report in Politico, the administration targeted a State Department employee based on her national origin.

When asked about the letter on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that claims they are not responding to Congress’s requests are “not accurate” and said the department takes allegations of political retaliation “very seriously.”

“The State Department takes allegations of reprisals as well as requests by members of Congress seriously, and we will handle this matter through all proper channels as we have with previous allegations of this kind,” another State Department spokesperson told FP following the briefing.

Stull did not respond to requests for comment. But she did respond to FP’s report last week, telling the news and entertainment site Heavy.com that it was “factually inaccurate” and “a hit piece written in consort with leakers who want to malign this President and anyone associated with the Administration.”

“And if they can destroy a woman’s reputation, so much the better,” she said.

FP reporter Colum Lynch contributed to this report.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy@RobbieGramer

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