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Turning China Into a Hermit Empire Won’t Work

Amid the coronavirus, most of the world has united against Beijing. That doesn't mean it will make much difference.

A giant portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping is carried atop a float at a parade to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 , at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

China stands alone—or at least as alone as a sprawling economic superpower of more than a billion people can stand.

America’s relationship with Beijing had already deteriorated prior to the coronavirus and has only withered since. Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Chinese counterpart put on brave faces after a summit in Hawaii, but that wasn’t enough to mask the tension. Meanwhile, China and India recently saw a deadly and extraordinarily dangerous clash erupt on their alpine border. Australia called for an investigation into China’s handling of the coronavirus earlier this year, eliciting retaliatory tariffs and an accusation that they were “this giant kangaroo that serves as a dog of the U.S.” (Metaphors are not a Beijing specialty; neither is wildlife.) The European Union is imposing tariffs on Beijing and working to curb “market distortions” caused by its firms. And Japan is signaling that it wants to bring its own manufacturing supply chains home.

That’s a remarkable roll call of opposition. Over at the Wall Street Journal, Greg Ip takes stock:

What two years ago was mostly a confrontation between China and the U.S. is becoming a broader showdown with the advanced democracies. Other countries were already worried about China’s pursuit of technological dominance, discriminatory trade practices, geostrategic assertiveness and domestic repression. Those worries intensified this year with China’s alleged lack of candor early in the coronavirus pandemic and its imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong.

Ip also notes, “What has emerged thus far, though, is not a coalition led by the U.S. but ad-hoc actions by individual countries.” That’s true, yet I can’t help but think that even some kind of linked-arms anti-China global coalition wouldn’t do much good. If nothing else, China has proven itself impervious to criticism. It’s still running concentration camps for Uighur Muslims, still hiding information about the pandemic’s origins, still dictating imperiously to Hong Kong. If anything, the coronavirus emergency has only served as an excuse for it to become more authoritarian and caustic.

And while America is speaking loudly, it’s carrying a rather small stick. The implements in our toolbox are the usual ones: sanctions, tariffs, economic retaliation measures. But if those haven’t worked against weaker nations like Iran and North Korea—and they haven’t—it’s difficult to imagine them taming a roused giant like China, whose government enjoys broad support among its numerous people and whose status as an economic bruiser can impose real pain. That isn’t to say that the coronavirus backlash doesn’t pose major challenges for Beijing. Authoritarian systems, though they tend to grow amid emergencies, can also prove unwieldy during them, as I’ve noted. And it’s certainly worth trying to end Beijing’s unfair trade practices and become less reliant on foreign supply chains.

Yet go much further and you lapse into magical thinking. Even if we somehow turn China into the Hermit Empire, we’re still left with the problem that enforced isolation couldn’t even stop the Hermit Kingdom. In which case, the notion of taming or even managing China has severe limits. Prolonged coexistence is the reality.

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Even AIPAC Rejects Netanyahu’s Annexation Plans

It's bad news when even the strongest pro-Israel lobby won't support you

Over the past three days, Jordan’s King Abdullah II held emergency video meetings with several senior members of Congress, from both parties, in an attempt to dissuade them from supporting Israel’s annexation plans. At the same time, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby, told lawmakers it’s okay to condemn Israel’s controversial plan for the West Bank, as long as they don’t cut aid.

A congressional aide and a donor confirmed AIPAC’s guidance was being delivered to lawmakers in video meetings and phone calls, reportsThe Times of Israel; “the message is unusual because the group assiduously discourages public criticism of Israel.”

The coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz allows for a vote on whether to annex parts of the West Bank as early as July 1. Internationally, annexation has been criticized due to concerns that it would jeopardize peace in the region.

From Haaretz:

“The king stressed again and again that this is an urgent issue, and that even with COVID and other sources of instability around the world, it’s critical to pay attention to what Netanyahu is planning,” said one of the sources. The official statement, added the second source, was “mild” compared to the actual contents of the briefings…

Jordan has been the most outspoken Arab country so far in its opposition to Israel’s annexation plans. Others have also expressed opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, but not as vocally and persistently as Jordan, a country where a large part of the population is of Palestinian origin, or has close family ties to Palestinians.

Former State Department official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Tamara Cofman Wittes told Haaretz that given the billions in aid that Congress has invested in Jordan, Abdullah’s decision to speak directly to members of Congress makes sense.

“Recognition of Israeli annexation is a decision the White House will have to make, but Congress also has an important role to play, and the time for Congress to get involved is now,” she said. “If the annexation move goes forward, and the consequences are like what the king is warning about, then Congress will be one of the first places where he will seek support and assistance.”

Even while not actively encouraging lawmakers to do so, AIPAC’s decision to tell lawmakers they are free to criticize Israel is a significant departure for the pro-Israel lobby. That change has been driven by the Netanyahu government’s decision to ignore private warnings from AIPAC and other Jewish American groups.

Netanyahu’s government listens to what Americans tell him, but in the end, “they do what they want,” an AIPAC donor said.

AIPAC supports a two-state solution, “which annexation would inhibit,” reportsThe Times of Israel.

As in many other areas of foreign policy, the Trump administration has sent mixed signals on annexation.

While Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s plan in January supported annexation, both the White House and the State Department have said that annexation should occur only as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, however, has signaled that annexation could occur before a deal.

U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman has a long-standing relationship with the settlers movement and “appears to be invested in annexation,” The Times of Israel reports. Friedman will meet with Netanyahu and Gantz to discuss annexation and attempt to resolve their differences.

From The Times of Israel:

Gantz, a former army chief of staff and a former military attache in Washington, is attuned to the sensitivities of the American political establishment, said David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who worked on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking for the Obama administration.

“Anyone who has been chief of staff of the Israeli army understands Israeli dependence on American weaponry, even with Israel with all of its indigenous capability,” Makovsky said, “if you ever want to identify what part of Israeli system is most sensitive to the US-Israel relationship, it’s security people — it’s not just $3.8 billion, it’s the technology, it’s the personal relationships, they feel it.”

There’s also the matter of cost: moving the security barrier and Palestinians from newly annexed areas would cost $7.6 billion, according to a report by the Commanders for Israel’s Security that has been distributed among members of Congress by the Israel Policy Forum.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has attempted to focus the State Department’s efforts on tensions with Iran, and any trouble with Israel and Palestinians would destabilize the region, undermine that effort, and detract from Israel’s international supporters.

All told, Trump administration officials are not keen to see an increase in violence in the Middle East as they head into the presidential election, but it’s unclear exactly what they will do if Israel goes ahead with its annexation plans. So far, they’ve been all over the map.

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Let’s Not All Rush Out and Buy John Bolton’s Book

It's just more career CPR by a war-happy Washington insider—even if Trump is trying to block its publication.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton during a meeting with Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko (Photo by Yuri OreshkinTASS via Getty Images)

The world of arts and letters is atwitter this week. John Bolton has a new book coming out—provided it can clear the gauntlet of Donald Trump’s censorious rage, that is. Bolton’s tome is called The Room Where It Happened, and despite what the title might suggest, it contains no details about the author’s conception. Rather it’s an insider’s account of Bolton’s time in the Trump administration. Naturally this has elicited fury from Trump, who’s accused Bolton of trying to circumvent the government’s review process for the publication of manuscripts.

The New York Times explains:

The Trump administration sued the former national security adviser John R. Bolton on Tuesday to try to delay publication of his highly anticipated memoir about his time in the White House, saying the book contained classified information that would compromise national security if it became public. …

The Justice Department accused him of short-circuiting a government review that he had agreed to participate in for any eventual manuscript before even accepting the post in 2018.

Mr. Bolton is breaking that agreement, “unilaterally deciding that the prepublication review process is complete and deciding for himself whether classified information should be made public,” department lawyers wrote in a breach of contract lawsuit against Mr. Bolton filed in federal court in Washington.

The suit could have deeper implications, especially given the inevitable deluge of tell-alls that will gush forth from this administration. If Trump is willing to obstruct Bolton’s book—a step presidents rarely take—it stands to reason he could try to block future memoirs too. It’s an irony so sharp it’ll cut an onion: the fate of government transparency rides with John Bolton.

Yet it’s also impossible not to be overwhelmed by the sheer boredom of it all. Is anything here really surprising? Both men are behaving as they always behave. Trump is being peevish and trying to undermine a subordinate perceived as disloyal. Bolton is being conniving and trying to advance himself and his pro-war agenda. This, of course, is what Bolton always does. It’s why last year he undermined Trump’s call for a withdrawal from Syria, saying the U.S. would first need to guarantee the safety of the Kurds and finish off the Islamic State, conditions that aren’t really achievable. It’s why he more recently contradicted the president on North Korea, saying Pyongyang had no desire to ever give up its nukes. It’s why he left the White House in the first place, angry after Trump had the gall to suggest some sanctions on Iran might be lifted.

Bolton entered the Trump administration because he sensed the way the wind was blowing. He was a bit of a nationalist himself and wanted to work from within to temper the president’s more dovish instincts on foreign policy. In that, he’s the last of a dying breed: the ultra-hawkish bureaucratic infighters, typified by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who cut their teeth during the Cold War and wielded power so effectively in the George W. Bush administration. But Trump is not Bush. According to insider accounts, he reportedly turned Bolton into a kind of foreign policy comic foil. At one point during a meeting with the Irish prime minister, Trump turned to Bolton and said, “John, is Ireland one of those countries you want to invade?”

Bolton might have been willing to play the lunatic Jeeves to Trump’s rococo Wooster. But not if it meant sacrificing his pro-war agenda. So it shouldn’t surprise us that the two men, ultimately different in their international outlooks, parted ways. As for Bolton’s book, it will emerge eventually. But really, what’s the point? Bolton has teased that The Room Where It Happened confirms that Trump attempted to procure dirt from Ukraine on leading Democrats. That’s big news—yet Bolton also declined to testify about it in front of Congress during impeachment hearings, when it might have actually made a difference. Instead he preferred to sell his story. In which case, there’s nothing to see here. Just more career CPR by a war-happy Washington insider.

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Recognizing the Limits of U.S. Power

Kennan was telling us almost 40 years ago that there were things we couldn't fix. We should have listened.

George F. Kennan in 1947  (Library of Congress)

Jeremy Shapiro wrote an interesting review of Shields of the Republic, a new book by Mira Rapp-Hooper about U.S. alliances. Dan Drezner responds to Shapiro by changing the subject to talk about the recent clash between Indian and Chinese forces in Ladakh:

This is not a clash that involves U.S. allies. But I can remember a time in which the United States possessed enough diplomatic capital and network centrality to function as a mediator between the two nuclear-armed countries. As this border skirmish was heating up, Donald Trump offered to act as a mediator only to be rebuffed by India almost immediately.

When exactly was this time that the U.S. could have served as a mediator in a situation like this? The only comparable case that I can think of was during the Kargil war between India and Pakistan more than twenty years ago, and even in that case the U.S. didn’t really mediate between the two. The U.S. did encourage Pakistan to deescalate, but even at the height of the so-called “unipolar moment” the U.S. had virtually nothing to do with bringing that conflict to an end. The crisis between India and Pakistan in late 2001 and early 2002 following the attack on the Indian parliament was likewise resolved with minimal U.S. involvement. No doubt Trump is too lazy to do the kind of diplomatic work that would be required to sustain an effective mediation effort, but India rebuffed U.S. mediation because India has a long history of not wanting others to get involved in its bilateral disputes with its neighbors. Modi previously blew off Trump’s offers to mediate the Kashmir dispute for the same reason, just as an earlier Indian government dismissed Obama’s suggestion of mediation. India has no wish for the U.S. to insert itself into the showdown with China, and the U.S. is in no position to appeal to Beijing about anything right now. The U.S. could have the most “robust” diplomatic presence in both countries, and it still would not make our involvement any more welcome or constructive.

There is a passage from George Kennan’s American Diplomacy that seems appropriate to quote here:

But when it comes to the acceptance of new responsibilities, let us, at long last, try to bear in mind the limits of our national capabilities and the price we are obliged to pay for our liberties. Let us recognize that there are problems in this world that we will not be able to solve, depths into which it will not be useful or effective for us to plunge, dilemmas in other regions of the globe that will have to find their solution without our involvement [bold mine-DL]. (p. 191-192)

We can all agree that Kennan was a strong proponent of U.S. diplomatic engagement, so when he was telling us almost forty years ago that there were some things that we couldn’t and shouldn’t try to fix we ought to have listened to him.

India and China still have strong incentives to deescalate despite the sudden eruption of violence and loss of life. For one thing, the clash has occurred in such a remote, high-altitude area that it is practically difficult to escalate the conflict. The U.S. should of course encourage a peaceful resolution to the standoff, but we should take Kennan’s advice and learn some humility about the limits of what our foreign policy can do. A border dispute between India and China is a good example of one of those dilemmas that the U.S. can’t solve.

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Orwellian Ministry: Give Us Your Blood!

Chinese police reportedly collecting millions of DNA samples from school-age boys and men for even more total surveillance.

Just when you thought that China’s Total Surveillance over its own people—a form of social control that has no rival in sheer scope and ambition other than maybe the fictional totalitarian superstate of Oceania—Beijing takes it a step further.

According to The New York Times  today, the Communist Party is collecting blood samples from tens of millions of Chinese boys and men in hopes of having enough of a sample to be able to connect and genetically track the entire population through DNA. One massive DNA database, that allows authorities to extrapolate the genetic familial networks of its entire population with one prick of the finger.

This “pinprick” is happening all over the provinces, in small towns and schools, where boys, hardly aware of what is happening, are required to line up one-by-one to give blood. More:

The project is a major escalation of China’s efforts to use genetics to control its people, which had been focused on tracking ethnic minorities and other, more targeted groups. It would add to a growing, sophisticated surveillance net that the police are deploying across the country, one that increasingly includes advanced cameras, facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence.

The police say they need the database to catch criminals and that donors consent to handing over their DNA. Some officials within China, as well as human rights groups outside its borders, warn that a national DNA database could invade privacy and tempt officials to punish the relatives of dissidents and activists. Rights activists argue that the collection is being done without consent because citizens living in an authoritarian state have virtually no right to refuse.

The paper based much of its reporting on documents obtained from The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which the NYT also had access to. Much of it has been easy to find, because, “local officials often publicly announce the results of their sampling.” According to ASPI, the effort is being run by the national police, the Ministry of Public Security, and aims to collect between 35 and 70 million samples, which would represent some 5 to 10 percent of the population. They do not need to sample every male, according to the Times, “because one person’s DNA sample can unlock the genetic identity of male relatives” and therefore entire family networks:

China already holds the world’s largest trove of genetic material, totaling 80 million profiles, according to state media. But earlier DNA gathering efforts were often more focused. Officials targeted criminal suspects or groups they considered potentially destabilizing, like migrant workers in certain neighborhoods. The police have also gathered DNA from ethnic minority groups like the Uighurs as a way to tighten the Communist Party’s control over them.

The effort to compile a national male database broadens those efforts, said Emile Dirks, an author of the report from the Australian institute and a Ph.D. candidate in the department of political science at the University of Toronto. “We are seeing the expansion of those models to the rest of China in an aggressive way that I don’t think we’ve seen before,” Mr. Dirks said.

As I had written for TAC just last year, the Chinese government has used the excuse of “domestic security” to impose escalating authoritarian measures on their Muslim minority population in Xinjiang province—everything from electronic monitoring through cell phones, to installing party agents in every home to personally track behavior and communications. We know upwards of a million Uighurs have been sent to prison camps  for brutal conditioning. Given what we know, it is no surprise that Beijing would collect Uighur DNA. But taking it to the next level—formulating a national database of genetic markers for every single citizen, in a country where social behavior is already so tightly watched and controlled through total surveillance and a massive social credit system, well, even Orwell himself may be impressed.

One Chinese rights activists recalled when provincial police tried to get his blood:

They knocked on his hotel room door soon after he checked in. Mr. Li said that when he refused to go to the police station, they hit him with rubber batons and dragged him there. But when they asked for a DNA sample, Mr. Li said, he stood fast, fearing that the Hangzhou police could use it against him.

“In some cases, your blood and saliva, which was collected in advance, can be put at the crime scene later,” Mr. Li said. “You’re not there, but your DNA might be on the scene. This is what I’m worried about — the possibility of being framed.”

They got their pinprick eventually, only after he was arrested and thrown in jail for “disrupting public order,” a “charge that the authorities use against many dissidents.”

We might be aghast at the lengths this Big Brother will go, but we need to be clear-eyed, too. One of the firms that sold the Chinese Communist Party was in right here in the U.S.A. 

Thermo Fisher of Massachusetts “has sold DNA testing kits to police agencies in at least nine counties and cities for establishing a ‘male ancestry inspection system,’ or a male DNA database, according to corporate bidding documents found by (ASPI author Emile) Dirks and verified by The Times.”

The company has defended its work. “We are proud to be a part of the many positive ways in which DNA identification has been applied, from tracking down criminals to stopping human trafficking and freeing the unjustly accused,” it added. According to the paper, Thermo’s collaboration with the Ministry of Public Safety has involved tailoring the test kits to look for specific genetic markers sought by the police, and “to distinguish between China’s ethnic groups, including Uighurs and Tibetans.”

Such surveillance measures here in the U.S. may be a long, long way away, but we know that American companies have rationalized their work with Beijing, on the government’s terms, for years, whether that be internet censorship  or AI surveillance, including facial recognition. Don’t think they won’t be ready to turn these tools on their own people here, when asked, if the price is right.

 

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Podcast: What is American Conservatism?

John Burtka and Daniel McCarthy join the hosts for a conversation about the next print issue of the magazine

The next print issue of the magazine is hitting mailboxes later this week, and it’s a doozy. The issue is a 100-plus page symposium on the future of American conservatism—where it came from, what went wrong, and where it’s going. To talk through some of these issues, John Burtka, editor of the magazine, and Daniel McCarthy, editor of Modern Age and former TAC editor, joins Arthur and Ryan for a conversation you won’t want to miss.

Right Now: A current affairs podcast hosted by Arthur Bloom, Helen Andrews, and Ryan Girdusky

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In Virginia, A Right-Wing Ouster

Rep. Denver Riggleman is the latest victim of intra-party insurrection in recent years in an otherwise blueing state.

Congressman-elect Denver Riggleman. Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

WASHINGTON– Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Va., apparently failed to win re-nomination Sunday. 

Amidst rolling national crises, it was an election that could have only taken place in the Old Dominion. Virginia’s Fifth District spans the Commonwealth north to south — from the NoVA suburbs to the stunning Blue Ridge region to the state border with North Carolina. Its first Congressional election was between two future presidents, James Madison and James Monroe (Madison both won and became president first). Its politics were described to me as a “viper’s nest” by a veteran of the state’s politics Sunday.  

The incumbent Riggleman — a first-termer — fell prey to a drive-thru convention. Bob Good — an associate athletics director at Evangelical flagship Liberty University — ran clearly to Riggleman’s right. The headlines from the Washington Post and others Sunday report that Riggleman was punished by voters for officiating a gay wedding (good for him). While clearly a factor, party veterans cautioned against a sweeping narrative, laying Riggleman’s defeat at the feet of a middling campaign staff and citing other issues, including immigration. 

Riggleman was described by much of the press as a down-the-line Trump supporter. While true if one looks at the Congressional vote record, that interpretation ignores intangibles and certain, inflamed issues. Riggleman, 50, is an affable businessman owner (of a cool distillery), and at ease in House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s GOP. The language he employs focuses on job creation through business partnership and turns the volume down on much of the culture war. 

“The United States is a nation of immigrants,” Riggleman told The Roanoke Times. “There are areas we’re sorely lacking in the job skills market. Certain parts of the district are losing population, so we need workers, we need skilled immigrant workers.” Good disagrees. He told the Times thathe desires the abolition of birthright citizenship. He’s derided “anchor babies” and seeks English as the national language. “We’ve got to eliminate illegal immigration and manage legal immigration in a way that puts Americans first, puts our citizens first, American jobs first,” Good told the Times. 

The landscape is complex. Good was described to me as a former NeverTrumper, aligned more with the politics of Ted Cruz — the 2016 runner-up — than President Donald Trump. Indeed, Good is said to be close with the Cruz establishment in the state, helmed by former Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli — a protestee of Trump’s ascent who has since gone to work for him as a senior immigration official. Focusing too on the now much-quieter grudge match between Trump and Cruz people elides the fact that the two politicians were once quite friendly– and competing over a similar swath of voters. Good’s victory this weekend was a victory of the anti-establishment wing over the party’s establishment. 

Virginia’s GOP selects its candidates by either convention or primary. The former is generally considered to favor grassroots party activists, while the latter the playground of establishment grandees. The reality is more complex, of course, but the rout of Riggleman is an heir in spirit to the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014 (in a primary) and the sidelining of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling in 2013 (through a convention). Riggleman lost Sunday by Coronavirus-era convention. Mandarins in the moderate wing will point out that past conventions have been fiascos. 

The 2013 state convention (which I attended- it was bad) produced a losing statewide ticket. The controversial Cuccinelli and the erratic Rev. E.W. Jackson were nominated for governor and lieutenant governor. The duo helped inspire a credible Libertarian challenge — Northern Virginia tech entrepreneur Robert Sarvis, who was complimented in the Post — and helped the party lose a winnable election. But the 2014 primary was a shot across the bow that presaged Donald Trump’s ascent nationwide. And Brat defeated his general election opponent.

Still, these bloody intramurals have taken place against a backdrop of Virginia falling further and further from Republicans’ grasp. The Grand Old Party has not won the governor’s mansion in Richmond since 2009, the state last voted Republican for president in 2004 and the 2018 midterms saw the erasure of many of its incumbents– including Brat. The outlaw spirit that helps outsider candidates triumph can turn on them once in office. Riggleman’s first foray into Virginia elections was a quixotic race for governor he tongue-in-cheek dubbed “the Whiskey Rebellion.” Critics of his tenure say in Congress he was on autopilot: content to rest on a “kill terrorists and make whiskey” narrative.

The district is winnable for Democrats. Politics aside, procedure is the first hurdle for the Republicans. Good apparently forgot or failed to file correctly with the state Board of Elections. “It recently came to light that Bob Good did not turn in his Statement of Candidate Qualification Form as required for any candidate to be on the November ballot,” Riggleman’s campaign said earlier this month. “Congressman Denver Riggleman did. Bob Good missed the Tuesday, June 9 deadline. This is amateur hour at its finest and shows Bob Good isn’t qualified for Congress.”  

Riggleman’s constituents disagreed. 

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Podcast: Am I in Trouble With the CHAZ Police?

This week's Right Now, featuring Andy Ngo

In this week’s episode, Ryan and Arthur talk to Andy Ngo, editor-at-large of the Post Millennial, about the Seattle CHAZ. In the intro segment, coup talk from Franklin Foer and the generals, and the latest cultural revolution purges at big publications and NGOs. To wrap up, HBO recontextualizes “Gone With the Wind.”

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Pompeo Letter: ‘Nasty Insinuation’ He Fired IG for Personal Reasons ‘Misleading’

His response to Congress was filled with weirdly personal jibes.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan Pompeo wave as they board their plane in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 18, 2019. They were in Kansas City Monday to speak at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. (Photo credit: JIM YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun sent three letters to Congress late Thursday rejecting allegations that the State Department’s Inspector General had been fired because he was investigating alleged misuse of State Department resources by Pompeo and his wife.

In his letter responding to Congress, Pompeo gets personal with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) in the very first paragraph.

Taking a sideways swipe at Engel’s primary contest, Pompeo writes: “I hear you’ve been busy in your District, so let me get you up to speed on what’s been going on with your Committee.” A footnote references an article that states Engel is “fighting for his political survival.”

Pompeo asserts in the letter that none of his top aides ever informed him that independent watchdog Steve Linick was investigating him.

Engel’s suggestion that he fired Linick because the IG was about to investigate and uncover his own impropriety is a “nasty insinuation” aimed at “misleading” the American people, writes Pompeo.

“Because I had no knowledge of this alleged work by the inspector general at the time I recommended to the president that Mr. Linick be removed, it is not possible that Mr. Linick’s work on this matter could have provided a retaliatory motivation for my recommendation,” Pompeo wrote.

In his letter to Engel, Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun, who had so far managed to stay mostly above the political fray, confirms this.

While fired IG Linick states that Pompeo’s top aides Brian Bulatao, Lisa Kenna & John Sullivan all knew that he was seeking documents as part of a probe into possible misuse of State resources by Pompeo and his wife, Susan, Biegun asserts that none of Pompeo’s aides told him about the probe.

The committee “wrongly concluded, without any evidence or corroboration, that Secretary Pompeo must have been aware of the inspector general’s work on this matter at the time that he recommended he be removed from his position,” Biegun wrote. “This conclusion is entirely false.”

“We can confirm unequivocally that, to the extent that any one of us were made aware of any ‘investigation’ of this nature, none of us briefed Secretary Pompeo on, or otherwise discussed with him, this purported ‘investigation’ at any time before the President removed Mr. Linick from his position,” writes Biegun.

The real reason Linick was removed was because he was guilty of  “strange and erratic behavior” and had failed to do his job over the course of several months, writes Pompeo.

According to current and former State Department employees who spoke with TAC, Linick had tangled with many of Trump’s political appointees inside State and would leak damaging stories about them to Foreign Policy magazine.

But Pompeo didn’t intervene until Linick started to investigate Pompeo himself, and his wife, Susan.

In his letter to Engel, Biegun says he should stop “perpetuating this false conclusion” that Pompeo knew about the personal investigations.

So why did Pompeo fire Linick?

Pompeo said he is willing to allow Under Secretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao to testify about the circumstances of Linick’s firing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 22 or 23.

He also said he regrets that Engel has allowed his staff to “take over” the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I need an inspector general working every day to improve State Department operations and efficiency,” Pompeo wrote in one letter to committee chairman Engel. “Mr. Linick was not that person.”

Included in the letters sent in response to Congress were four pages titled “Three Things Democrats Won’t Tell You About Linick’s Testimony.” The document pulls out selective negative quotes from Linick’s testimony to Congress. The quotes highlight that Linick had emailed drafts of an IG report to his personal account several times, something he is allowed to do during travel.

Pompeo and his aides have accused Linick’s team of leaking to the Daily Beast information about a damaging IG report on alleged political retaliation against career staff. Pompeo has continued to blame Linick for the leak, even though the Pentagon inspector general cleared Linick and his office. In the report, the IG recommended Brian Hook be disciplined for his treatment of career State staff.

Was Linick fired in retaliation for recommending discipline for Hook?

In response to the letters, Engel said he “puzzled why Secretary Pompeo’s letter includes so many errors, but I’m glad that the department is moving toward what the committees requested weeks ago: allowing Mr. Bulatao to speak on the record about the firing of Inspector General Linick.”

“We look forward to hearing from Mr. Bulatao and all the other witnesses involved in this fiasco,” he said.

In addition to investigating Mike and Susan Pompeo’s possible misuse of State funds, Linick, who had been inspector general since 2013, had also opened a review of last year’s $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which Pompeo approved over congressional objections.

 

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