Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Pompeo’s Silence Creates a ‘Crisis of Morale’ at State Department

| Jan. 16, 2020


“The rank and file are very disturbed by the inability, the refusal, of the secretary of state to defend his own people,” says former diplomat Nicholas Burns.

Lawmakers released documents and messages this week that appear to show associates of U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer surveilling the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, amid a campaign to oust her from her job. They are the latest documents at the center of the impeachment investigation into Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential rival.

It’s unclear whether the new revelations from these associates, including Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born American who worked for Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and has since been indicted, were outlandish claims or have real merit. But the allegations have ramped up pressure on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to publicly defend the former ambassador and other career State Department employees ensnared in the political upheaval. So far, Pompeo and the State Department have remained silent. 

Foreign Policy spoke to Nicholas Burns, a former career diplomat, about what the latest news means for Pompeo and America’s diplomatic corps. Burns serves as an unpaid advisor to Biden’s presidential campaign. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and undersecretary of state for political affairs during George W. Bush’s administration. From 1995 to 1997, he was the State Department’s spokesperson. He is currently a professor of diplomacy at Harvard University. 

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment for this interview. 

Foreign Policy: What was your reaction to the latest documents Congress released that included messages from associates of Trump?

Nicholas Burns: I think it answers the questions that Congress should have both in the House and Senate on the impeachment inquiry about the effective hijacking of American policy towards Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani and his associates. I cannot remember a similar incident over the last four decades where a private individual had so much influence over our policy towards a very important country in the world. It should be part of at least the questions that are being asked in the impeachment inquiry so that senators, when they vote, have a better sense of what was happening. 

From a foreign service and State Department perspective, the Parnas documents are deeply troubling. Now, obviously, it remains to be seen if these are entirely true stories that he is telling. But that means there has to be an investigation, and it has to be done in a methodical manner by the House and Senate. It would be unprecedented in my experience for an American ambassador to be put under surveillance by people representing the president.

FP: Ukraine agreed today to investigate those claims that Yovanovitch might have been surveilled.

NB: This might be the first time in American history that a foreign government, Ukraine, has rushed to the defense of an American ambassador who was being targeted for surveillance by [associates] of the president of the United States. And as all this was being revealed, the secretary of state over the last 36 hours has said nothing to defend [Yovanovitch]. This is an unprecedented situation. From the perspective of the foreign service and the State Department, those who are dedicated to the institution of our career diplomats, it is indefensible not to support Ambassador Yovanovitch. It’s inexcusable. Any other secretary of state would have said those things.

FP: But Pompeo has already repeatedly said he’ll comply with the letter of the law and criticized the impeachment investigation as unfounded. Do you think that these new revelations will change anything or prompt Pompeo to speak out publicly on this further?

NB: Well, I think it’s going to put additional pressure on him. His tenure is going to be known for many things. But one big thing [will be] that he failed to defend the career foreign service when it was attacked unfairly. Masha Yovanovitch, [former acting Ambassador to Ukraine] Bill Taylor, [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State] George Kent, all of the others who testified. He’s the leader. I can’t imagine any prior secretary of state who would be silent when all this was happening.

  – Via the original publication source.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Pompeo’s Silence Creates a ‘Crisis of Morale’ at State Department.” Foreign Policy, January 16, 2020.