Politics

Susan Pompeo, already under scrutiny, will join husband on official State Department trip to Europe

Key Points
  • Susan Pompeo will join her husband, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on an official trip to Europe this week while she is already under scrutiny over her use of federal resources.
  • Susan Pompeo's travel plans, revealed as most Americans remain largely barred from traveling to Europe due to the coronavirus, mark the latest instance of her involvement in her husband's official government duties.
  • Her attendance could draw increased scrutiny toward her use of federal resources, which previously sparked an investigation by a State Department internal watchdog.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, escorted by his wife Susan, disembark from the plane upon landing in the Lebanese capital Beirut on March 22, 2019, on the final stop of his regional tour.
Jim Young | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Susan Pompeo will join her husband, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on an official trip to Europe this week while she is already under scrutiny over her use of federal resources.

The State Department confirmed that she would be on the trip, which was set to begin Monday.

Despite having no official State Department position, Susan Pompeo has nevertheless requested and will be accompanied by personal control officers – U.S. Embassy officials who will organize her travel and tend to her needs – during her time in each of the four nations she is set to visit, according to a person with knowledge of the trip's planning.

Susan Pompeo's travel plans, revealed as most Americans remain largely barred from traveling to Europe due to the coronavirus pandemic, mark the latest instance of her involvement in her husband's official government duties. Her attendance could draw increased scrutiny toward her use of federal resources, which previously sparked an investigation by a State Department internal watchdog.

The State Department on Monday said ethics and legal advisors cleared Susan Pompeo's participation in the European trip.

"The State Department's legal and ethics team determined that Mrs. Pompeo's role on this trip will advance our country's foreign policy goals," a State Department spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to CNBC.

"Mrs. Pompeo provides tremendous lift to our diplomatic mission by meeting with spouses of new foreign service officers, speaking to families headed overseas for first-time assignments, and making sure that foreign diplomats and their spouses are always treated with kindness and warmth, reflecting the finest tradition of America."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan speak with the Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus in Abu Dhabi on January 13, 2019.
Andrew CAballero-Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images

Susan Pompeo's participation in the trip drew criticism, regardless.

"American diplomats overseas are desperately trying to keep themselves and their families safe, while still serving this country," said Brett Bruen, who served as a diplomat for 12 years in the Bush and Obama administrations.

"In what world is it a smart or safe idea to have family members of the Secretary tagging along on a trip? This isn't a legal or logical use of taxpayer resources during a pandemic," added Bruen, the former director of global engagement at the White House and president of international consulting firm Global Situation Room.

The U.S. delegation to Europe is set to depart Monday evening on a four-day trip visiting Pilsen and Prague in the Czech Republic; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Vienna, Austria, and Warsaw, Poland.

The U.S. embassies in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Austria and Poland did not respond to CNBC's requests for comment.

Watchdog investigation

Mike Pompeo, the nation's top diplomat, came under fire in May when Trump removed State Inspector General Steve Linick without immediately providing a clear explanation.

The president said at the time in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that he approved the late-night firing because he had lost "confidence" in Linick. Days later, Trump told reporters that Pompeo asked him to fire Linick. "I don't know him, never heard of him, but they asked me to terminate him," Trump said of the former inspector general.

At the time of his firing, Linick's office had been looking into at least two matters involving Pompeo: a review of his approval of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia that bypassed congressional approval, and an investigation into whether Pompeo and his wife misused government resources.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan talk as they wait to exit his plane upon landing at Sydney Airport in Sydney on August 3, 2019.
Jonathan Ernst | AFP | Getty Images

The latter probe involved allegations Pompeo made a staffer run personal errands for him and Susan Pompeo, including walking their dog, picking up his dry cleaning and making dinner reservations, sources told NBC News in May.

Congressional Democrats are investigating whether Pompeo's move to have Linick fired was an act of reprisal. Pompeo has denied the firing was an act of retaliation, arguing he was not aware of the probes at the time he recommended Linick's removal. But Pompeo also admitted that he had answered questions sent from the watchdog's office related to an investigation.

Linick was asked by congressional investigators in June whether one of the potential issues he was investigating involved the funds being spent for Susan Pompeo to accompany her husband on official travel. "I can't get into the specific allegations," Linick replied, according to a transcript of his testimony.

Pompeo in late May said he should have recommended firing Linick earlier, accusing Linick's office of leaking and of "investigating policies he simply didn't like."

VIDEO4:0504:05
Trump on State Dept. inspector general's firing: 'I was asked to by the State Department, by Mike'

— CNBC's Kevin Breuninger contributed to this report from New York.