Washington — The Office of Special Counsel has launched an investigation examining whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated federal law with his speech to the Republican National Convention, which he delivered while on a government trip to Jerusalem, two House Democratic leaders confirmed Monday.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey confirmed the probe, which centers around whether the secretary of state violated the Hatch Act. The law governs the political activity of executive branch employees.
"As we get closer to both this year's election and his own inevitable return to electoral politics, Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the administration's, and his own, political ambitions," the two Democrats said in a statement, adding the State Department has missed congressional deadlines to turn over documents on Pompeo's domestic speeches.
Engel and Lowey, both of New York, said confirmation of the investigation stemming from Pompeo's speech follows reports that the Office of Special Counsel is also investigating his pledge to make public more of Hillary Clinton's emails before the election.
Pompeo delivered his speech to the Republican National Convention in August from the roof of a hotel in Jerusalem, where he was visiting as part of a multi-day swing through the Middle East and Africa. His address was criticized by former diplomats and congressional Democrats, who noted that previous secretaries of state have refrained from participating in political events such as the conventions.
His participation in the gathering, as well as that of other top Trump administration officials, led a group of House Democrats to ask the Office of Special Counsel in September to investigate potential violations of the Hatch Act by the administration during the convention. Pompeo's speech, they wrote, "raises concerns about the use of federal resources for the secretary's political activity, including the cost of his travel."
Pompeo himself had warned in a July 24 memo that presidential and political appointees "may not engage in any partisan political activity in concert with a partisan campaign, political party, or partisan political group, even on personal time and outside of the federal workplace." A legal memo from the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser also noted "Senate-confirmed presidential appointees may not even attend a political party convention or convention-related event."
But Pompeo claimed after the convention, "The State Department reviewed this; it was lawful, and I personally felt it was important that the world hear the message of what this administration has accomplished."
Mr. Trump is responsible for imposing penalties on administration officials who run afoul of the Hatch Act, though he has so far declined to punish White House officials who were found to have violated the law. Last year, the Office of Special Counsel recommended Mr. Trump fire then-White House counselor Kellyanne Conway for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act, but the president declined to do so. Conway left her post at the White House in August.