Top State Department officials berated, insulted staff
Top officials in the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs subjected employees to “disrespectful and hostile treatment,” accusations of disloyalty, and retaliation, a long-awaited report from the department’s watchdog agency found. The report also said the bureau’s leadership “did not take significant action” to address these concerns.
“Nearly every employee interviewed by OIG raised concerns about the leadership of IO and the treatment of staff,” according to the report released Thursday by the State Department Office of Inspector General.
The bureau’s leaders labeled some employees “traitors,” if they felt they didn’t support President Donald Trump. They berated others for following procedures, punished staff for not doing work the department’s Office of the Legal Adviser had deemed “inappropriate” and targeted others for retaliation, in one case because of a staffer’s “relationship with the gay and lesbian community.”
The concerns are largely centered around Mari Stull — the “Vino Vixen” wine blogger lobbyist turned Trump administration appointee in IO — and IO Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley.
‘Six to eight hostile interactions per day’
“Although some IO employees reported that they had never witnessed Assistant Secretary Moley or Ms. Stull behave unprofessionally, the majority of employees OIG interviewed either directly experienced hostile treatment or witnessed such treatment directed at others,” the report said. “In fact, one IO employee told OIG that working with Ms. Stull involved ‘six to eight hostile interactions per day.'”
Stull left the department in January 2019; Moley remains in his post. Moley participated in an interview with the OIG, but Stull declined.
The report cited numerous examples of Stull and Moley berating employees for following established department procedures for tasks ranging from sending briefings to booking travel accommodations.
‘Inappropriate accusations of disloyalty’
Stull and Moley also “made inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and made positive or negative comments about employees based on perceived political views,” according to the report.
“For example, several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as ‘Obama holdovers,’ ‘traitors,’ or ‘disloyal,'” the report said. “Other career employees told OIG that Ms. Stull accused them of being part of the ‘Deep State’ and that the Assistant Secretary accused them of ‘undermining the President’s agenda.'”
In one instance, the report noted, Stull “expressed displeasure” with a legislative affairs employee accompanying a delegation of the Congressional Black Caucus “because it consisted of only Democratic members.” Stull accused the employee “of trying to ‘thwart’ President Trump and undermine his agenda” and many of the employee’s job responsibilities were reassigned. That employee eventually left the State Department.
Moley and Stull retaliated against other employees as well, according to the report. Moley removed a principal deputy assistant secretary, a career diplomat, after she raised concerns about Stull’s treatment of employees and conflict of interest.
Moley “told the PDAS that he did not believe that her concerns about Ms. Stull were valid” and “it was obvious to him that she had problems working with Ms. Stull and that, therefore, the PDAS should be prepared to leave the bureau,” according to the report.
In another instance, the OIG found that Moley had canceled the selection process for a deputy director position in order to support Stull’s move to block the leading candidate for that post. Stull did not like the candidate’s work with the UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees — a point which Moley confirmed to the OIG. Stull also reportedly had a problem with that candidate’s “relationship with the gay and lesbian community,” according to the report.
She criticized two career employees “whom she believed had been insufficiently supportive of her position” in a work dispute stemming from her time at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. She also attempted to remove work responsibilities from one of those employees for failing to assist her, despite the fact that what she had asked them to do was deemed “inappropriate” by the Office of the Legal Adviser.
Failure to address concerns
Despite concerns raised by both IO employees and State Department management, Moley did little to address them, according to the report. Moley told OIG “that no employees had ‘ever’ raised concerns with him regarding morale or treatment of employees.”
However, the report said he had conversations with two undersecretaries in April and on June 13, 2018, and with Deputy Secretary John Sullivan on June 25, 2018 regarding the issues raised about his bureau. In each, he was advised to address the misbehavior.
In the June 13 meeting, he was directed to take several steps — let all IO employees know about his commitment to inclusion, develop a staffing plan to address two IO departures, ensure that Stull had recused herself from all activities related to her prior work at the UN, and direct her to stop “all further public engagement” criticizing State Department employees.
Although Moley took some of these steps, the misconduct continued. The report noted that OIG continued to receive reports about “hostile treatment of employees, allegations of disloyalty, and conflicts of interest” throughout the course of its review.
‘We won’t stop until this culture of impunity is ended’
The watchdog recommended in its report that the State Department “develop a corrective action plan to address the leadership and management deficiencies” in IO within 60 days. It also noted the department should consider whether to take disciplinary action for the conduct described in the 34-page document. The State Department agreed with both of these recommendations, the report said.
Thursday’s report presented the findings of one of two OIG investigations into political retaliation at the department. It was opened in June 2018 after members of Congress expressed concern to the State Department about allegations of Stull’s vetting of career employees were reported by Foreign Policy Magazine.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Eliot Engel said Thursday that the report “confirms what we feared: ‘disrespectful and hostile’ treatment of career employees at the State Department.” The New York Democrat urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to fire Moley.
“There is more to come, and I hope it comes very soon. The delays from the Department on this matter have been frustrating. The House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is conducting an independent inquiry on these matters, and we won’t stop until this culture of impunity is ended and everyone responsible faces stiff consequences,” Engel said in a statement.