State Department Office of Inspector General Report: Mike Pompeo’s Wife Took Six Unapproved Taxpayer-Funded Trips

Susan Pompeo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s wife, accompanied her husband on numerous taxpayer-funded trips without receiving the required written approval, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General uncovered in a report based on a whistleblower complaint.

Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“In October 2019, the Office of Inspector General received a whistleblower complaint related to travel by the spouse of the Secretary of State that the Department of State (Department) considered official travel. To investigate this complaint, OIG requested and reviewed documentation related to official representational family travel by Susan Pompeo,” the report begins.

Typically, the secretary of state travels via military transport on official diplomatic trips, known as “White House Support Missions.” Guests, including spouses, family members, or friends, must reimburse the United States government for their expenses if their presence is unofficial or had not received written approval from the Department.

The report notes that the rules are clear when it comes to financing spousal travel:

For representational travel for the Secretary’s family, the authorizing official cannot be the Secretary, because Department policies prohibit employees from taking certain official actions that would affect their personal or imputed financial interest. In this case, Mrs. Pompeo’s financial interest, (i.e., what portion of the expenses related to travel would be paid from personal funds or by the government), would be imputed to the Secretary.

The report continues:

Generally, Department policy permits such travel by relatives of Department officials for appropriate representational purposes. However, both Department guidance and principles of internal control require documentation of both the official purpose and the approval of the travel. Federal ethics rules prohibit the Secretary from approving the travel himself.

During the investigation, which lasted more than a year, the “OIG requested and reviewed documents from the Office of the Secretary (S) and its Executive Secretariat (S/ES), as well as from the Office of the Deputy Secretary, the Office of the Under Secretary for Management (M), and the Office of the Legal Adviser (L). OIG also interviewed Department officials with knowledge of these issues.”

In the case of Pompeo, the OIG discovered that between April of 2018, the month Pompeo was sworn in as secretary of state, and April of 2020, Ms. Pompeo “accompanied the Secretary on eight trips that were determined to be representational in nature (in whole or in part). For these eight trips, OIG reviewed whether the Department followed relevant guidance in authorizing and approving the trips.”

Of those eight trips, the OIG found that only two were approved by the Department:

  • January of 2019: Amman, Jordan; Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; Abu Dhabi, The United Arab Emirates; Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Muscat, Oman.
  • March of 2019: Kuwait City, Kuwait; Jerusalem, Israel; and Beirut, Lebanon.

“For the remaining six trips,” the report continues, “officials in S/ES provided OIG with documents that indicated the representational purpose cited for each trip. For example, for the August 2019 trip, S/ES provided an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand to Mrs. Pompeo to attend a spouse program during a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. For the September/October 2019 trip, S/ES provided an official agenda noting a luncheon for the Pompeos hosted by the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and his partner and a visit with the Prime Minister of Greece and his wife.”

But in its probe of the matter, OIG determined that the State Department “was unable to provide a signed justification statement or other documentation evidencing approval of these six trips by an authorizing official. For two of the six trips — the September 2018 trip and the December 2018/January 2019 trip listed in Table 1 — OIG could not determine either through its document review or interviews whether an appropriate Department official approved the trips.”

Although the report did not specify how much the trips actually cost taxpayers, the entitlement and brazen lack of accountability in President Donald Trump’s waning administration never ceases to be remarkable.

“The amount of reimbursement is calculated by the Department’s travel agent and is generally the lowest commercial fare available at that time for the same itinerary,” says a report footnote.

“A signed statement, documenting both the justification and approval of representational travel, is essential to ensure compliance with Department guidance, as well as for recordkeeping and internal control purposes,” the OIG wrote. “Although the Department had documentation that purportedly demonstrated justification for all eight trips taken by the spouse of the Secretary, the Department could provide appropriate documentation of approval by an authorized official for only two of them.”

The State Department’s counselor, Ulrich Brechbuhl, meanwhile, denies that the Department did anything wrong, and in his response complained that a) all travel by the secretary’s spouse is entitled to automatic approval (the OIG disagrees, per the report) and b) that the OIG should have approached the Department directly instead of mounting an investigation.

Brechbuhl’s opinion, however, is needlessly more defensive than the Department’s, which agreed to recommendations by the OIG to ensure future compliance:

Recommendation 1: The Office of the Secretary, Executive Secretariat, should seek and gain written approval from an appropriate authorizing official for all representational travel by any family member of the Secretary of State.

Management Response: In its November 9, 2020 response, the Department concurred with this recommendation.

OIG Reply: This recommendation can be closed when the Department provides documentation that it will seek and gain written approval for future trips.

Recommendation 2: The Under Secretary for Management, or other authorizing official, should document in writing the approval for all representational trips by any family member of the Secretary of State.

Management Response: In its November 9, 2020 response, the Department concurred with this recommendation.

OIG Reply: This recommendation can be closed when the Department provides documentation that it will document the approval for future trips.

Nevertheless, the optics are absolutely terrible.

Forty days until the inauguration.

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