Top State Department Official Repeatedly Drank To Excess On The Job: Watchdog

Akbar Shahid Ahmed
·Foreign Affairs Reporter, HuffPost
·6 min read

A high-ranking State Department official who is close to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo drank alcohol excessively on “numerous” occasions while working, even raising a red flag among foreign counterparts, multiple State Department officials told the agency’s watchdog for an unpublished report obtained by HuffPost.

The department’s inspector general “believes that [Cam Henderson’s] conduct raises significant suitability concerns and given the visibility of her position, [the office] believes it is important to bring them to the attention of department leadership,” the report says. The investigation was concluded in May and submitted to Pompeo’s team, but it is not expected to be officially released. It largely addresses a period between the fall of 2017 and the summer of 2019, when Henderson served in a less senior role.

Last August, Henderson became the chief of protocol, an important post that oversees delicate diplomatic events and matters of rank. The revelation about her behavior and apparent impunity adds to the impression that the State Department has become less professional and more politicized under President Donald Trump and Pompeo.

The State Department inspector general said agency staff believed Henderson had missed an official event on Dec. 13, 2019, because of “overconsumption of alcohol at an official [Office of Protocol] event the night before.”

“Several of these employees told [the inspector general] that members of foreign delegations had made comments or raised concerns about Ms. Henderson’s alcohol intake,” the watchdog added.

Two department officials also described alcohol-related issues with Henderson to The Washington Post for an August story. They said Henderson encouraged her predecessor and previous boss, Sean Lawler, to drink in the office “to calm him down.” Lawler left the job in July 2019 after multiple complaints that he harassed and denigrated employees.

Pompeo tapped Henderson to succeed Lawler without seeking Senate confirmation, breaking with normal practice. Henderson has been deeply involved in Pompeo’s controversial practice of holding “Madison dinners,” swanky taxpayer-funded events featuring the secretary and his wife that some lawmakers and officials at the State Department view as politically motivated ― more about Pompeo’s future presidential ambitions than any diplomatic purpose.

Henderson collaborated with Susan Pompeo ― who has played an outsize role at the department and in the CIA during her husband’s previous post as director there ― on guest lists, menus and entry for VIPs, a source told ABC News. Invitees have included political power players from Kansas, where Pompeo considered a Senate run, and at least 150 conservative figures, including dozens of Republican donors, according to an NBC News count. The State Department inspector general and congressional committees are currently investigating the dinners.

Henderson is a longtime GOP operative who worked for years with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump confidant. In July, New Jersey’s attorney general ordered her to pay a fine for failing to register a company she owned as a fundraising organization after it took money for fundraising services from a well-funded nonprofit called Trump for America, the New Jersey Globe reported.

Cam Henderson (center) is the chief of protocol at the State Department, attending high-profile events like the White House ceremony in September at which Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreed to recognize Israel.  (Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images)
Cam Henderson (center) is the chief of protocol at the State Department, attending high-profile events like the White House ceremony in September at which Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreed to recognize Israel. (Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images)

A State Department spokesperson strongly defended Henderson and attacked the inspector general, or IG, in a response to HuffPost.

“The department’s leadership is extremely disappointed in the quality of work displayed in this memo from the IG’s office​, as it leaves out important facts and paints a picture that is not accurate to what actually transpired,” the spokesperson wrote in an email, calling it “outrageous” that the report had been shared with journalists. “It is clear in statements to IG investigators that both Ms. Henderson and [her deputy Mary-Kate] Fisher are respected for their professionalism and actions as members of the protocol staff.”

Like Henderson, Fisher previously worked under Christie and Lawler.

An official from the inspector general’s office, Thomas McDonald, told Henderson he had heard the atmosphere at the protocol office “had greatly improved” on her watch, the spokesperson added.

The inspector general’s office did not respond to a HuffPost request for comment on the criticism from the State Department.

The State Department spokesperson also shared testimonials purportedly from three unnamed State Department officials. One “federal employee of over 20 years” praised Henderson’s “open-door policy and emphasis on good communication.”

“My dealings with her have been nothing but professional,” a State Department employee of more than five years apparently said, while a senior employee allegedly added, “She is thoughtful, kind and I have never seen Cam act in an unprofessional manner.”

And the spokesperson shared a lengthy comment from one of the most influential people at the agency, Pompeo’s counselor Ulrich Brechbühl. It came with a preface: “This comment should be used in its entirety considering the level of accusations being made from unnamed sources and because it’s online and the length of the internet is endless.”

Brechbühl called the accusations against Henderson “particularly egregious” and claimed the inspector general’s report lacked context because the investigation did not include interviews with Fisher and other senior protocol office members. He also directly addressed the claim that Henderson missed an official event, citing her response that she slept through an alarm for 3:30 a.m. and arrived at a later event at 5:30 a.m.

“Leaving out critical information in memos, and leaking personnel information to the media is corrupt and puts people’s lives and careers at stake,” Brechbühl wrote. “The world would be a better place if organizations like the Huffington Post and the person responsible for leaking internal documents had the character and heart displayed daily by Ms. Henderson.”

No part of the State Department’s response directly refuted the idea that Henderson regularly drank to excess on the job.

The report includes a comment from her, however: “Ms. Henderson told [the inspector general] that her use of alcohol has not caused her to miss an event or deadline and has not otherwise affected her ability to carry out her responsibilities.”

A spokeswoman for the inspector general told HuffPost there are no plans to publicly release the document, which accuses Lawler of “workplace violence” and Henderson and Fisher of enabling and downplaying his abuse. In one instance, Henderson reacted to Lawler cracking a horsewhip in the office by placing the item in her personal office. (A source told ABC News that Lawler then brought a soccer ball to kick at staffers’ desks.)

Brechbühl wrote a scathing response to the report over the summer, per Politico, that would be included in any final package.

Politico, the Post and ABC News first revealed other elements of the investigation earlier this year. In May, soon after the protocol office report was concluded, Pompeo successfully pushed Trump to fire inspector general Steve Linick, who was probing matters ranging from whether Pompeo misused State Department resources to how he bypassed Congress to push through weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Linick’s successor, Stephen Akard, resigned less than three months later.

The office is now led by Diana Shaw, who previously served in the Department of Homeland Security’s IG’s office.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.