Michael McKinley, the former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo until his sudden resignation last week, will tell House impeachment investigators Wednesday that career diplomats were mistreated during his tenure and that some had their careers derailed for political reasons, according to a person familiar with his testimony.
McKinley will outline how his concerns culminated with the recall of the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, a punitive action he and many other rank-and-file diplomats viewed as wholly unjustified.
“The unwillingness of State Department leadership to defend Yovanovitch or interfere with an obviously partisan effort to intervene in our relationship with Ukraine for the political benefit of the president was too much for him,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
McKinley’s last day was Friday, though he had informed Pompeo more than a week earlier that he was resigning. The split has been bitter, as shown by the absence of a statement from Pompeo expressing gratitude for McKinley’s 37 years of service.
The person familiar with McKinley’s statement said the veteran diplomat will not criticize Pompeo directly, though he will discuss his concern over the politicization of the agency in the Trump administration.
McKinley arrived on Capitol Hill with an intimate understanding of how Pompeo wielded power in the highest echelons of the State Department, given his proximity to the top diplomat on his many trips abroad. McKinley flew on Pompeo’s plane, advised him on a broad array of issues and used his connections throughout the Foreign Service to help Pompeo take the temperature of the building.
Pompeo has prided himself in bringing the State Department’s “swagger back” following a dip in morale under his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, but lately the catchphrase has elicited guffaws as the secretary faces questions about his loyalty to career diplomats.
McKinley’s testimony comes as the House impeachment inquiry digs deeper into the actions of President Trump’s top diplomat, who has lasted longer than any other member of the president’s national security team.
Trump on Wednesday expressed frustration with the growing list of US officials testifying before House investigators, saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is issuing subpoenas with abandon.
“Nancy Pelosi hands them out like cookies,” he told reporters in the Oval Office as he sat beside Italian President Sergio Mattarella. “I have all these people testifying. . . . I don’t even know these people. ”
Trump reiterated a complaint shared by House Republicans that the depositions are being conducted behind closed doors without the presence of White House or State Department lawyers.
“We’re not allowed to representation,” Trump said. “We’re not allowed to lawyers. We’re not allowed to have anything. ”
McKinley was expected to make an opening statement that underscores anAugust reportby the State Department’s inspector general concluding that the Trump administration’s political appointees bullied staffers and accused them of political disloyalty to the president, the person said.
The report condemned Kevin Moley, the assistant secretary in charge of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, and his former senior adviser, Mari Stull. She is a former lobbyist and consultant for the food and agricultural industry who left the department early this year after reports in Foreign Policy and other outlets revealed she had compiled a list of employees she considered insufficiently loyal to Trump. Moley still holds his position, and officials have said Pompeo lacks the authority to dismiss political appointees, which diplomats say is not true.
The State Department accepted the recommendation of the report in August and said it would submit a “corrective action plan” within 60 days, but that deadline has passed. Officials have also said there is a second inspector general report that is critical of the firing of State Department officials under Pompeo’s top Iran hand, Brian Hook, but that report has not been released yet.
McKinley, a career diplomat and Latin America specialist, has served in several senior diplomatic posts, including as ambassador to Afghanistan, Colombia and Peru. He was serving as ambassador to Brazil last year when Pompeo recruited him as a policy adviser and a conduit between his office and the career service.
The testimony of McKinley, who occupied the seventh-floor office next to Pompeo, could do more to clarify persistent questions about the secretary’s role in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and the abrupt removal of Yovanovitch in the spring. Ahead of her ouster, the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani waged a campaign against Yovanovitch accusing her of trying to protect Biden and his son from a Ukrainian investigation and harboring an improper loyalty to liberal billionaire George Soros.
In her testimony last week, Yovanovitchdenied those allegationsand said she was “incredulous” that her superiors decided to remove her based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” She also took direct aim at Giuliani’s associates, whom she said could have been financially threatened by her anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine.
“They fired her in the most dishonorable way imaginable,” said one former State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal processes.
Pompeo has defended his actions, saying in aninterviewwith the news outlet the Tennessean on Friday: “I protect every single State Department employee. It’s one of the reasons that we asked the House of Representatives to stop their abusive prosecutions where they won’t let State Department lawyers sit with our employees. ”
But Pompeo’s suggestion that he is doing diplomats a favor by pushing back against congressional requests to interview them has not been celebrated or even welcomed in some cases. Instead, several current and former U.S. officials have openly defied White House orders to avoid testifying before House investigators, choosing instead to defend their actions and describe the role of other Trump officials as the House issues subpoenas for their attendance. On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, a central figure in the effort to push Ukraine to open the investigations, is expected to appear on Capitol Hill.
Pompeo’s status as the most trusted adviser in Trump’s Cabinet has led many in the building to question why he could not expend that capital to defend Yovanovitch or to thank a career diplomat on his way out the door.
“It is so indicative of how fragile the secretary’s relationship with the president is, even though he is the favored one in the national security environment, ”said the person familiar with McKinley’s testimony, stressing that this was a personal observation, not McKinley’s. “The secretary felt he could not praise Mike or thank him publicly, just as he could not stand up for Yovanovitch, who was obviously the subject of a diplomatic mugging.”
Karen DeYoung contributed to
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