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Pompeo’s Sketchy Shadow Senate Campaign

Pompeo has been acting like a Senate candidate for months while denying that he intends to run. Like everything else he says, Pompeo’s denials weren’t true:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told three prominent Republicans in recent weeks that he plans to resign from the Trump Administration to run for the U.S. Senate from Kansas in next year’s elections. The problem: how to get out in one piece.

Pompeo’s plan had been to remain at the State Department until early spring next year, the three Republicans tell TIME, but recent developments, including the House impeachment inquiry, are hurting him politically and straining his relationship with Trump.

So Pompeo is rethinking his calendar, say the top Republicans, one who served in the Trump Administration, another who remains in government, and a third who served in several high-ranking posts and is active in GOP politics. The timing of Pompeo’s resignation now will be decided by his ability to navigate the smoothest possible exit from the administration, the three Republicans say.

The Secretary of State has been taking an unusually strong interest in visiting his home state while being there ostensibly on official business, and he has been conducting a large number of interviews with local Kansas media in an obvious attempt to build up his profile in the state ahead of a Senate campaign. Whenever he has been asked about this, he has claimed to have no intention to run and insists that he is focused on his job at the State Department. Someone close to Pompeo repeated that denial after the latest story came out:

That has never seemed credible, and this new report is more evidence that it was false.

There would be nothing wrong with a Cabinet official deciding to resign in order to run for office, but there is something very wrong with remaining in a Cabinet position and using government resources to pursue that same office. The Wichita Eaglereported on this issue in October:

Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen, a group that advocates for stronger ethics laws, said Pompeo is using federal resources to bolster his potential run in Kansas. It’s difficult to distinguish between official trips and campaign trips when the individual isn’t a declared candidate, he said.

“It’s widely assumed that he is in fact testing the waters … and he is using federal resources for these trips to make sure his face and presence gets all over Kansas,” Holman said.

The Secretary’s habit of traveling to Kansas on the taxpayer’s dime has raised flags that he may be in violation of the Hatch Act. Lisa Needham summed it up very well last month:

The Hatch Act bars executive branch employees from using government resources for partisan purposes, such as campaigning while on the clock. But it appears Pompeo may be doing just that.

Since March of this year, Pompeo has made three trips to his home state of Kansas. That might not be unusual, but these were framed as official trips, not Pompeo just visiting. Combine this with the fact that Pompeo may very well be considering a Senate run back home — he’s already got the backing of prominent Republicans like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell — and it looks a lot like those trips home are to promote Mike Pompeo, not the interests of the United States.

Pompeo pretty clearly intends to run for Senate, so he shouldn’t be permitted to lay the groundwork for his campaign using government resources. The Secretary has probably already violated the Hatch Act with his campaign-like behavior:

Department of Political Science chair at Washburn University and political analyst, Bob Beatty, said even without a campaign, Pompeo could still be found in violation of the Hatch Act.

“You don’t have to be running for office, you can be laying the groundwork to be running for office,” said Beatty. “So under an interpretation of the Hatch Act, you can just be doing campaign-like activities to prepare to run and you could be violating it.”

Pompeo has been abusing his position and he seems to be running afoul of a law that was written to prevent officeholders from exploiting their positions for personal and political advantage. He should be held accountable for wasting government funds on his political field trips, and the sooner he resigns the better it will be for the State Department and the country.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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