Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assigned official government work to one of his top advisers through his wife, Susan, who used a private email account to relay his requests, according to newly released testimony.
The spouse of a Cabinet member would not be expected to have a government email account if they are not employed by the government. But Susan Pompeo’s influence over official personnel and activities at the State Department, as a private citizen, has raised concerns on Capitol Hill and within the department.
It has become part of an ongoing inquiry in the State Department inspector general’s office on the misuse of government resources.
Toni Porter, one of Pompeo’s longtime confidantes and employees from his days as a Kansas congressman who followed him to the State Department, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month that she would manage projects for Pompeo “of special interest” to the secretary – sometimes relayed through his wife.
“The work that I get assigned is from the Secretary,” Porter told the committee, which published the transcript of her closed-door testimony on Friday. “There are times that Mrs. Pompeo relays that work to me.”
Those requests are relayed “often by email – sometimes by phone, but often by email,” Porter said, confirming that Susan Pompeo was using a private email account.
Later in the interview, Porter was asked if she was ever given tasks that made her “uncomfortable, whether ethically or otherwise?” She responded, “yes,” and when asked to elaborate, said on “two occasions I assisted with personal Christmas cards.”
Asked why she felt uncomfortable, Porter replied, “Because I was at the State Department.”
The House attorney conducting the questioning asked Porter if she relayed those concerns to anyone at the State Department. “I did not,” she responded.
The Pompeos’ use of government resources has been under public scrutiny ever since President Donald Trump fired the State Department inspector general, Steve Linick, on May 15.
Pompeo has acknowledged that he asked Trump to fire Linick. But the office has continued its inquiries. Porter was first interviewed by the inspector general’s office roughly two weeks before testifying before the House committee, she told the lawmakers.
“It was about misuse of government resources by a member of the executive branch,” she said.
As a congressman, Pompeo was harshly critical of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system while serving at the State Department.
“Secretary Clinton tried to hide every one of her emails, she destroyed 30,000 of them, and now we have an FBI investigation of those very emails,” Pompeo told NBC in 2015.
In an interview with CNN during the same period, he characterized Clinton’s behavior as “deeply inconsistent” with her guidance to State Department employees.
“She told all of them that you can’t behave this way, that you have to use an official account to conduct governmental business.”
Clinton was the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.
In a statement Friday evening, a State Department spokesperson criticized the Democratic-led House inquiry and defended Susan Pompeo’s unofficial role.
“It is not a revelation that Mrs. Pompeo, like all the spouses of our dedicated diplomats, is a tremendous force multiplier for our diplomatic mission. She meets with spouses of new foreign service officers, speaks to families headed overseas for first time assignments, and makes sure that foreign diplomats and their spouses are always treated with kindness and warmth, reflecting the finest tradition of America,” the statement said.
“Even though the Democrats and the media have falsely accused her of having an office at the Department, Mrs. Pompeo does not have a government office or government email address,” the statement said. “As a non-government employee, it is natural that she does not have a state.gov email address but as the Secretary of State’s spouse it is still essential that she stay in communication with the Department on logistical issues including events where she plays a representational role.”
Porter worked for Pompeo’s first congressional campaign in 2010 and went on to serve as Wichita-based district director before following him to the CIA and State Department, where she has served as an important gatekeeper for access to Pompeo.
She testified that she was involved in developing the series of Madison Dinners hosted for members of the business and political community, including one attended by Sen. Pat Roberts, the retiring Kansas Republican whose seat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unsuccessfully tried to persuade Pompeo to pursue.
Roberts previously told the Wall Street Journal that he and Pompeo primarily talked about Kansas at the dinner.
Porter said that she was aware of media reports that Pompeo was considering a run for Roberts’ seat, but she disputed that Roberts’ presence at one of these dinners was related to a potential run.
“The Pompeos, they and I, have known Senator Roberts for a number of years. I’m sure Kansas would have come up,” Porter said.
Updates with more Porter testimony, State Department comment.