Yovanovitch: ‘The State Department Is in Trouble’

It isn’t just the Department of Justice that has been corrupted.

While most of the news is currently focused on the fact that Attorney General William Barr has corrupted the Department of Justice, former Ukrainian Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch made her first public remarks since her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. She warned that “the State Department is in trouble,” too.

Her remarks were captured by Cristina Cabrera.

“Senior leaders lack policy vision, moral clarity and leadership skills,” she continued. “The policy process has been replaced by decisions emanating from the top with little discussion.”

The diplomat said that as the department is “being hollowed out from within,” its officers “are increasingly wondering whether it is safe to express concerns about policy even behind closed doors.”

“This is no time to undercut our diplomats,” she warned.

Yovanovitch has already testified extensively to the lack of policy vision when it comes to Ukraine. I was therefore struck by her reference to the lack of “moral clarity and leadership skills,” especially given that Secretary Pompeo posted his speech to the American Association of Christian Counselors titled, “Being a Christian Leader” on the front page of the State Department’s web site. The leadership Yovanovitch is criticizing has presented itself not just in moral terms, but as Christian.

Pompeo’s speech, along with its appearance on the web site, raised a host of concerns about the constitutional protections against the establishment of religion. But in terms of content, the secretary is suggesting that he is a “Christian leader,” which sets up a moral compass by which he can be judged.

Pompeo focused his remarks on three “d’s.”

I want to use my time today to think about what it means to be a Christian leader, a Christian leader in three areas:

First is disposition.  How is it that one carries oneself in the world?  The second is dialogue, talking.  How is it that we engage with others around the world?  And third is decisions, decisions that we make.  How do we make choices?  Upon what basis?  What do we use as our bedrock to get to those decisions?

When it comes to disposition, Pompeo talked about humility and forgiveness. He suggested that dialogue should be about listening and telling the truth. Finally, he said that decisions should always be made based on your priorities.

All of that sounds good. But we don’t have to look any further than the way in which Pompeo treated NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly to see that, when it comes to his actual behavior, he completely fails to walk his talk.

Interestingly enough, it was when Kelly asked Pompeo about his silence in defending Marie Yovanovitch that he went off the rails—ending the interview before summoning Kelly to his office for an expletive-filled tirade. The secretary then sought to humiliate Kelly by suggesting that she couldn’t find Ukraine on a map. In the end, he issued a not-so-veiled threat.

“He shouted at me for about the same amount of time as the [9-minute] interview itself had lasted,” Kelly told Shapiro. “He was not happy to have been questioned about Ukraine. He asked, ‘Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?’ He used the F-word in that sentence and many others.”

Pompeo then had a pop quiz for Kelly, a veteran national security correspondent who has reported from China, Russia and, most recently, Iran.

“He asked if I could find Ukraine on a map; I said yes,” she continued. “He called out for his aides to bring him a map of the world with no writing, no countries marked. I pointed to Ukraine. He put the map away. He said, ‘People will hear about this.’ “

After Kelly went public about what happened, Pompeo released a statement in which he lied about her and barred NPR from sending a reporter to cover his trip to Ukraine.

According to people who have worked with Pompeo, this wasn’t an isolated incident. So perhaps we can understand why Yovanovitch referred to a lack of moral clarity and leadership skills at the State Department. It also helps to explain why current employees would be worried about expressing concerns, even behind closed doors. Seeking vengeance against anyone who doesn’t display complete loyalty obviously isn’t limited to the president and his attorney general.

Yovanovitch also referred to the hollowing out of the State Department, something that began with Secretary Tillerson and has obviously continued under Pompeo’s leadership.

The bigger picture we see from these incidents with the Departments of Justice and State is that the entire federal bureaucracy is in the process of being corrupted. Many of us expected that to happen back when Trump began his presidency by announcing members of his Cabinet who had spent their careers advocating against the very mission of the departments they were tasked with leading. It appears that the worst offenders are those—like Pompeo, Barr, DeVos, and Perry—who are Christian nationalist ideologues.

Talking about the challenge of cleaning up the mess that Trump has made of the entire federal government isn’t the kind of inspirational message Democratic candidates want to emphasize on the campaign trail. But voters should keep in mind that it will be the most critical task that awaits this president’s successor on day one.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.