State Department Watchdog Censures Two Trump Appointees for Harassing Career Staffers
Report says the two appointees targeted career officials they perceived as politically disloyal.
The U.S. State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded in a report released Thursday that two senior political appointees routinely harassed career officials they deemed insufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump.
The 34-page report, which followed a lengthy investigation, found that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley and Mari Stull, a former senior advisor, berated career staffers in the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, commonly referred to as the IO Bureau.
The investigation followed a Foreign Policy story last year documenting allegations that Stull had bullied and demeaned staffers and sought to drive out career officials who were associated with Obama administration policies, including support for gay and lesbian rights as well as those of Palestinians.
In an email response to a request for comment, Stull told Foreign Policy that the inspector general’s “report focuses on false and silly allegations by career bureaucrats who hate President Trump.”
“The report is politically motivated payback for my efforts to implement President Trump’s agenda over the resistance of Deep State bureaucrats who opposed his reform agenda,” she said. “I was never even given an opportunity to interview with the [inspector general] during my tenure with the Administration. The report contains false and misleading information.”
The inspector general did not directly address Foreign Policy’s report that Stull had compiled a loyalty list. But it alleged that Stull retaliated against career officials perceived as politically disloyal and that she’d referred to her colleagues in the IO Bureau as the “swamp” on her personal Twitter account.
The report said Moley acknowledged to the inspector general receiving “credible allegations of retaliation consistent with the allegations in the Foreign Policy article” from William Todd, the then acting director-general of the foreign service.
The inspector general “found evidence of leadership and management deficiencies and mistreatment of career employees in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs,” according to the report.
“These inappropriate practices included disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees, accusations against and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were ‘disloyal’ based on their perceived political views, and retaliation associated with conflicts of interest.”
Details of the report were first published in Politico on Thursday.
The investigation, which began in July 2018, involved the review of thousands of emails and other relevant documents and interviews with more than 40 current and former IO employees. The Office of Special Counsel is also conducting a separate investigation into the allegations of political targeting.
“Nearly every employee interviewed by OIG raised concerns about the leadership of IO and the treatment of staff,” the report said.
Moley issued a lengthy rebuttal in the appendix and elsewhere in the report, denying some of the specific charges leveled against him.
“[T]he behavior attributed to me regarding raising my voice, berating employees, and contributing to a hostile work environment does not represent who I am or who I have ever been,” he wrote. He said there were “countless” officials who could attest to the fact that “the behavior attributed to me in this report is not reflective of their experience.”
The report’s harshest criticism is directed at Stull, a political appointee with no official supervisory role who wielded enormous power and influence over U.S. foreign policy at the United Nations.
It claims one State Department staffer ran afoul of Stull for accompanying the Black Caucus delegation to U.N. headquarters in New York—a routine courtesy the bureau traditionally extends to congressional delegations from either party.
Stull accused the employee, who is not named in the report, of trying to “thwart” Trump and undermine his agenda, the report alleges.
“After the trip, many of the employee’s job responsibilities were taken away,” the report states. “The employee reported that she was excluded from all sensitive discussions and was effectively no longer IO’s congressional point of contact. She was instead assigned mostly administrative tasks and eventually left the Department because she was frustrated by the lack of substantive work.”
“Several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as ‘Obama holdovers,’ ‘traitors,’ or ‘disloyal,’” the report stated.
“Other career employees told OIG that Ms. Stull accused them of being part of the ‘Deep State’ and that the Assistant Secretary accused them of ‘undermining the President’s agenda.’”
The report alleged Stull, who had previously worked for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), retaliated against a State Department official who had refused to give her legal advice in a private matter related to a claim Stull had filed against the FAO before she entered the State Department.
The official, who was the department’s recognized expert on food security, was abruptly removed from the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly.
Stull’s “attempts to remove job responsibilities” from the State Department employee “appear likely to have been based on her belief that the [individual] did not provide her with sufficient assistance in her private employment dispute.”
Stull claimed to the OIG in August 2018 that she was herself the victim of retaliation as a result of her own efforts to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in the department. The OIG discussed the allegations with Stull in October 2018 and concluded in the report that it “did not identify independent support for Ms. Stull’s allegations of retaliation.”
A State Department spokesperson declined to make Moley available for comment. But the spokesperson said the State Department accepted the report’s recommendations.
“The Department will provide a corrective action plan as recommended by the OIG within 60 days,” the spokesperson said, adding that David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, “is already working directly with the bureau to provide guidance, counsel employees, and improve leadership and management.”
The spokesperson also said the State Department would prepare a “corrective action plan” for Moley after a final review of the inspector general’s report.
In another incident in April 2018, the report claimed Stull circumvented a mid-level employee’s supervisors to ask for information on a country’s contributions to the U.N. “Ms. Stull did not believe the data provided was accurate, called the work product ‘garbage,’ and threw it at another employee,” the report said.
“[W]orking with Ms. Stull involved ‘six to eight hostile interactions per day,’” one employee told the OIG, according to the report.
The inspector general provided a harsh assessment of Moley’s stewardship of the IO Bureau, which oversees U.S. relations with the United Nations and other international organizations.
Moley routinely criticized staffers for relatively mundane perceived infractions, such as taking too long to purchase a flag for Stull’s office. He also allegedly upbraided another staffer for failing to secure him a first-class seat on a work trip.
Moley responded that he “did not request, let alone demand, first class travel” and “certainly did not accuse anyone of ‘not fighting hard enough’ for a request I did not make.”
One foreign affairs officer was reportedly blocked from a position in the bureau because Stull deemed him not “trustworthy” due to his work on the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and “his relationship with the gay and lesbian community,” according to the report.
Moley acknowledged that Stull was critical of the employee and said it was due to perceived anti-Semitism. He denied ever hearing her, according to the report, “criticize the officer’s connections to the gay and lesbian community.”
The report also said Moley improperly forced out his principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS), a decorated veteran career diplomat, after she raised concerns about management and leadership issues in the bureau, including Stull’s treatment of junior staff.
Moley dismissed the principal deputy assistant secretary’s concern, telling her that “it was obvious to him that she had problems working with Ms. Stull and that, therefore, the PDAS should be prepared to leave the bureau.”
But the inspector general said that while Moley had broad discretion to staff his office, his rationale for pushing out his deputy was improper.
“Department policy requires that assignments for Foreign Service officers be made solely on the basis of merit,” the report said.
“The circumstances of Assistant Secretary Moley’s removal of the PDAS suggests that he undertook a personnel action based on non-merit factors, namely, her articulation of concerns about Ms. Stull’s conduct.”
Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called for Moley to be removed from his post. “Today’s report confirms what we feared: ‘disrespectful and hostile’ treatment of career employees at the State Department,” he said in a statement.
“Let’s be clear: these actions are prohibited by law and they are offensive. They happened more than a year ago with no consequences. And Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley, who is somehow still running the bureau, appears to have done nothing to stop this vindictive culture.
“Ultimately, of course, the buck stops with Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo, who continues to employ Mr. Moley as part of his senior leadership team. Mr. Moley should resign or be fired,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said politicizing national security puts America’s safety at risk.
“The Trump administration has had no limits or shame in how they’ve targeted career employees because of a perceived political preference or otherwise mistreated them, a problem that has been compounded by the inability or unwillingness of both Secretaries Pompeo and Tillerson to stop this behavior,” he said.
Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch