U.S. Diplomats Draft Dissent Cable

State Department officials expressed anger at the department’s gag order on messaging as violence wracked Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the White House with President Donald Trump.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office of the White House on June 20, 2019. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A group of dozens of State Department officials are filing a formal dissent cable directed at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the department’s lack of forceful public messaging about the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol building by a pro-Trump mob this week, according to three officials familiar with the matter.

The dissent cable, which one person said has been signed by over 70 officials, reflects mounting anger within the department over the administration’s response to the mob that ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with lawmakers still trapped inside. The mob, following a rally in which President Donald Trump doubled down on baseless claims the election was stolen from him, temporarily interrupted President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral certification. Trump later committed to a peaceful transition of power but refused to explicitly concede defeat.

Diplomats who advocate for fair elections and democracy abroad privately said the events that Trump helped instigate this week did untold damage to U.S. stature and prestige on the world stage. They pointed to U.S. adversaries and autocratic rulers, from those in Russia to Zimbabwe, who were trying to use the scenes of violence in Washington to undermine U.S. calls for democratic reforms in their own countries.

As U.S. allies abroad watched with shock and horror as the mob breached the Capitol, the State Department ordered its embassies not to issue any new statements, social media posts, or public messaging on the development, as Foreign Policy first reported. Critics within the department said that order left U.S. public diplomacy abroad temporarily marooned during what some American leaders have referred to as one of the darkest chapters in modern American democracy. 

But others said it was simply meant to prevent embassies from issuing pre-prepared posts on other issues given the gravity of the situation in Washington—and stressed it was only a temporary pause. Since then, Pompeo as well as various U.S. ambassadors around the world have issued their own statements condemning the violence and addressing the implications for America’s image on the global stage.

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

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch


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