White House Installs Anti-Abortion Loyalist at USAID
Across federal agencies, the Trump administration is seeding the government with ideologues meant to advance hard-line policies.
The Trump White House has added another political loyalist and anti-abortion advocate to its roster of political hires at America’s premier international development agency, expanding the role and influence of the religious right in shaping U.S. priorities on global health and development, U.S. officials told Foreign Policy.
Patrina Mosley, who has been named advisor to the director of the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is an outspoken anti-abortion advocate who recently accused the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) of using the coronavirus pandemic to promote abortions—a claim the U.N. calls patently false.
The appointment was made at the instruction of the White House personnel office, which has been seeding various federal agencies with hard-line loyalists who have often espoused fringe political viewpoints. This includes appointees who have expressed Islamophobic and anti-LGBTQ views on social media and promoted conspiracy theories.
At USAID, the White House personnel directives have left senior officials to deal with the fallout from sagging morale and internal dissensions over the controversial hires.
Mosley recently served as the director of life, culture, and women’s advocacy at the conservative Family Research Council (FRC), which has been criticized for “extreme anti-LGBT positions and actions” by the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based advocacy organization. The FRC also has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FRC has denounced these assertions as “defamatory accusations.”
Mosley began working at USAID on June 8, according to acting USAID spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala. But Jhunjhunwala referred further questions about “specific personnel decisions” to the White House. The White House declined to comment.
Mosley’s apparent Twitter profile—whose bio reads “Jesus | Justice | #WakandaForever | #MAGA” and is currently private—includes a fake quote attributed to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by the conservative Christian satirical site the Babylon Bee: “If you don’t let me sniff your hair, you ain’t a woman.”
Mosley’s tweets—some of which were recovered by the Wayback Machine—reveals a partisan supporter of Donald Trump and anti-abortion advocate who lambasted the Obama administration for mounting an eight-year “assault on religious freedom.” Days after the president’s inauguration, she tweeted: “Trump is off to a great start in renewing a culture of pro-life. #MAGA.”
“It has been apparent that world abortion leaders, like the World Health Organization, have been using the current pandemic to push abortions now more than ever before as ‘essential,’” Mosley wrote in a May 20 blog post for FRC. “Unfortunately, the United Nations is one of those leaders that is willing to use billions of U.S. dollars to deliver abortions as a part of coronavirus humanitarian aid.”
U.S. and U.N. officials say it is untrue that the United Nations uses U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund international abortions and that it does not fund abortions in countries that outlaw the practice.
“Any suggestion that we are using the COVID-19 pandemic response as an opportunity to promote abortion is not correct,” a U.N. official told Foreign Policy. “While we support health care that prevents millions of women from dying during pregnancy and childbirth and protects people from sexually transmitted infections including HIV, we do not seek to override any national laws.”
While the Trump administration has bungled its own response to the pandemic at home, it has made sure to inject its anti-abortion goals into the international response to the pandemic. USAID has ramped up its campaign to pressure the U.N. to eliminate any language in international agreements and documents promoting “sexual and reproductive health,” a phrase religious conservatives contend is code for abortions but which U.N. officials and most Western governments say represents a broad panoply of services designed to keep impoverished mothers and children healthy—including abortions in countries where they are legal.
On May 18, John Barsa, USAID’s acting administrator, urged U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres not to use funds from the $6.7 billion U.N. Global Humanitarian Response Plan for the pandemic to promote abortion or “sexual and reproductive health” programs, writing that it “is essential that the UN’s response to the pandemic avoid creating controversy.” The United States has contributed more than $475 million to fund the plan.
“The United States stands with nations that have pledged to protect the unborn,” he added.
The appointment of Mosley has infuriated Democratic officials, who learned about it from Foreign Policy.
“Whatever happened to the idea that people should be hired on the basis of merit?” one Democratic Senate aide told Foreign Policy. “Political appointees are nothing new, but is it too much to ask that they have the qualifications to carry out the mission of the agency, based on experience in the field? Instead, they get people whose sole qualifications seem to be their religious zeal and appeal to extreme ideologues in the White House.”
Mosley isn’t alone. In a sign of the religious right’s ascendancy at USAID, a former advocate for social conservative causes, Bethany Kozma, an anti-transgender activist, was promoted this year to deputy chief of staff for the administrator. The move elevated an ideologue who made a name for herself by denouncing same-sex bathrooms in public schools on the grounds that they could be exploited by sexual predators.
This month, Politico reported that a former Breitbart writer and ally of former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, Tera Dahl, would join USAID as a senior advisor. Merritt Corrigan, USAID’s deputy White House liaison, has a history of anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant social media posts, as ProPublica first reported last month, including deriding “our homo-empire” and a “tyrannical LGBT agenda” in one post. Mark Kevin Lloyd, a new religious freedom advisor at USAID and former field director for Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia, has written and promoted anti-Islamic social media content, including sharing a post that called Islam a “barbaric cult” in 2016.
The new appointments have fueled a management and morale crisis for Barsa, USAID’s acting administrator, according to several current and former officials familiar with the matter. A group of employees demanded a meeting with Barsa last month, claiming that the recent hires would create a hostile work environment. Barsa issued a statement defending the president’s appointees at USAID and decrying news reports about them as “unwarranted and malicious attacks.”
“USAID is honored to have Bethany Kozma, Merritt Corrigan, and Mark Lloyd serve at the agency. They are committed to enacting the policies of President Donald J. Trump,” Barsa said in the statement.
Barsa separately met with staff representatives and “reiterated his zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment and emphasized his firm commitment to hold all employees accountable regardless of how they entered the Agency,” according to USAID’s Jhunjhunwala.
“We are not aware of any allegations of discrimination by the appointees in question or other actions that are less than professional or not up to the highest legal, moral and ethical standards that the agency has always upheld,” Jhunjhunwala told Foreign Policy.
A group of seven Democratic senators, including Ben Cardin of Maryland, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, wrote to Barsa last month to voice concern over the hiring of Lloyd and Corrigan, saying it risked “alienating the hardworking staff at USAID—not only women, Muslims and members of the LGBT community—but any employee that is justifiably dismayed that people who hold these views were appointed to represent the world’s premier international development agency.”
“We are confounded by the counterproductive decision of appointing two people whose views are so antithetical to American values of tolerance and equality, and to USAID’s stated commitment to these values,” the lawmakers wrote.
Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch