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Office of Special Counsel to examine Pompeo's election antics

Trump expects officials to use levers of power to help his campaign, and Pompeo is eager to do his part. There are, however, ethics laws to consider.
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, on July 15, 2020.Andrew Harnik / AFP - Getty Images

More so than any of his modern predecessors, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has played the role of partisan political operative while ostensibly serving as the United States' chief diplomat. Evidently, his antics have not gone unnoticed at the Office of Special Counsel.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said on Monday that it would investigate whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo violated the Hatch Act's ban on political activity in the federal workplace by pledging to release Hillary Clinton's emails, in response to President Trump's pre-election demand. "We received your Hatch Act complaint and will open a case file to address this matter," the Special Counsel investigator Ana Galindo-Marrone wrote in a one-sentence email to the watchdog group American Oversight, which shared it with The New York Times.

Some caveats are probably in order. It's not yet clear, for example, the extent to which the Office of Special Counsel -- not to be confused with Robert Mueller's special counsel's office -- will investigate the matter, or how long such a probe will take. If Donald Trump loses in two weeks, Pompeo will almost certainly be out of office when the matter is resolved.

But whether the investigation is warranted should not be in doubt.

As we recently discussed, the president lashed out wildly in a variety of directions last week, and Pompeo didn't escape Trump's tantrum. The president specifically targeted the Kansas Republican for, of all things, failing to produce emails sent by Hillary Clinton several years ago.

"They're in the State Department, but Mike Pompeo has been unable to get them out, which is very sad actually. I'm not happy about him for that reason," Trump said. "He was unable to get that. I don't know why. You're running the State Department; you're able to get them out."

It's never been clear which emails the president thinks are still lurking in State Department servers. Nevertheless, just one day later, the nation's chief diplomat assured Fox News that he and his team intend to produce anti-Clinton materials "before the election." He added a week later, in reference to Clinton emails, "We will do everything we can to make sure that the American people get a chance to see as much as we can equitably produce."

It's not at all clear whether these emails exist or why Team Trump considers them relevant. But for Pompeo, that doesn't appear to much matter: Trump expects officials to use levers of federal power to help his re-election campaign, and so the secretary of State is eager to do his part.

Except, federal ethics law exist to prohibit officials like Pompeo from engaging in these kinds of election antics, which is apparently why the Office of Special Counsel has agreed to take a closer look. Watch this space.