Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has faced growing scrutiny and criticism of his performance as America’s chief diplomat, has a new concern on his dinner plate.
He and his wife, Susan, have hosted lavish dinners, paid for by the State Department, which seem to have less to do with foreign policy than with gaining wealthy and influential friends for a future political campaign, reports NBC News.
The network says its investigation found that Pompeo held about two dozen so-called “Madison Dinners” from when President Trump named him Secretary of State in 2018 to late last year, before the coronavirus shutdown stopped them.
Few of those invited were diplomats or foreign officials, NBC says:
“The records show that about 29 percent of the invitees came from the corporate world, while about a quarter of them hailed from the media or entertainment industries, with conservative media members heavily represented. About 30 percent work in politics or government, and just 14 percent were diplomats or foreign officials.”
All the House or Senate members who received invitations are Republicans.
Some on Twitter suggest that Pompeo’s concern about possible investigation of the politics implied by that guest list motivated his recent push to fire the State Department’s inspector general.
The dinners are named after James Madison, who served as secretary of state from 1801 to 1809 in Thomas Jefferson’s administration. Madison then succeeded Jefferson as president.
While secretary of state, Madison held dinners — at his own expense — for foreign diplomats and others, aiming to improve the young nation’s standing in the world.
Pompeo’s Madison dinners were different. Held in the State Department’s lavish Madison Room in the Harry S. Truman Building in Washington, the dinners are described by a spokeswoman as opportunities “to discuss the mission of the State Department and the complex foreign policy matters facing our exceptional nation.”
Yet a master list of invitees obtained by NBC News shows that many — perhaps most — lack any discernable connection to or knowledge of “complex foreign policy matters.”
They include country singer Reba McEntire; NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade; former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, American Gaming Association President Bill Miller, and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion rights lobbying group.
Then there are the conservative business moguls: Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy, a major donor to campaigns against same-sex marriage and AOL co-founder Steve Case, along with those NBC dubs “Republican megadonors” like Home Depot founder Ken Langone, hedge fund executive Paul Singer and Texas real estate tycoon Harlan Crow.
“More than 50 ambassadors” do appear on the guest list, which numbers nearly 500, NBC says, “nearly two-thirds from countries in Europe and the Middle East and smaller numbers from Asia, Latin America and Africa.”
Susan Pompeo orchestrates the invitation list, and “all the information collected … including the names and contact information for potential guests, is emailed back and forth” to her personal email account, despite being for an official government function.
“Two congressional officials expressed concern that information could then be used by Pompeo as a potential donor Rolodex,” should he run for office, says NBC.
The dinners are paid for with the so-called “K Fund” — the State Department’s Emergencies in the Diplomatic and Consular Service Appropriation, which is intended 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 Department’s website.
NBC calculates that the total cost of the Pompeos’ dinners is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — so far.