Pompeo hosted dozens of secret State Department dinners with few diplomats and many potential donors — while taxpayers picked up the tab

Pompeo hosted dozens of secret State Department dinners with few diplomats and many potential donors — while taxpayers picked up the tab
Image via MSNBC.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the past two years held dozens of elite and secret State Department dinners at “Foggy Bottom,” the Harry S. Truman Building that is home to the nation’s diplomatic corps.

Named for the nation’s fifth Secretary of State and fourth President, Pompeo’s “Madison Dinners,” as he branded them, at times featured French 75 cocktails, a harpist, group photos by the fireplace, tours of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, and several hours of conversation. Parting gifts included a $23.75 pen “custom-embossed with the Madison Dinner logos,” as NBC News reveals in their exclusive investigation. Hundreds of the gifts were ordered in 2018, the year Pompeo took over after his predecessor’s unceremonious ouster.

Taxpayers picked up the tab each time, for everything.

Invited guests included millionaires and billionaires, a race car driver, several influential Fox News hosts, Supreme Court justices, Congressmen and Senators – Republicans only – but few actual diplomats.

Many of the guests were “major players in Republican politics, such as former Bush strategist Karl Rove and David Urban, a lobbyist and political consultant on Trump’s 2020 advisory committee. Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch appear on the list, as do Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, although it’s unclear whether all of them attended.”

In fact, just 14 percent of the 500 total guests invited to attend were diplomats or foreign officials. That could be a problem if Pompeo has to defend how he – or rather, how taxpayers – paid for the extravagant evenings.

“The dinners,” NBC reports, “are paid for out of the State Department’s Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Service Appropriation, known as the ‘K Fund,’ which can be used for ‘confidential requirements in the conduct of foreign affairs as well as other authorized activities that further the realization of U.S. foreign policy objectives,’ according to the State Department’s website. Current and former officials said that to comply with the spirit of the appropriation, State Department officials generally work to ensure that a significant proportion of foreign dignitaries or officials attend.”

It’s difficult to explain how many of the guests, like NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy, country singer Reba McEntire, or “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade could be helping Secretary Pompeo “further the realization of U.S. foreign policy objectives.” Also difficult to explain are former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, American Gaming Association President Bill Miller, or Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion lobbying organization Susan B. Anthony List.

And there are plenty of billionaire “business moguls,” including AOL co-founder Steve Case, GOP megadonors like Home Depot founder Ken Langone, hedge fund executive Paul Singer, and Texas real estate tycoon Harlan Crow.

“The CEO of Chick-fil-A is not someone I would say is involved in foreign policy,” a source familiar with the dinners told NBC News.

Also important is Pompeo’s wife’s role in the dinners, and what the couple plan to do with the information she has collected.

“Officials involved in carrying out the dinners say all the information collected by the State Department during the invitation process, including the names and contact information for potential guests, is emailed back and forth to Susan Pompeo’s private Gmail account. Two congressional officials expressed concern that information could then be used by Pompeo as a potential donor Rolodex if he runs for office again. The Hatch Act prohibits most federal employees from engaging in political activity at work or in their official capacities.”

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