A new report about a senior Trump administration adviser allegedly vetting career diplomats and other federal employees at international institutions for loyalty has provoked a strong response from an expert in constitutional law.
On Wednesday, Foreign Policy magazine cited “nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials” who alleged that Mari Stull, a former lobbyist-turned-wine blogger known as “Vino Vixen,” is apparently gauging whether or not State Department staffers cleared Obama-era policies through the bureaucratic chain of command. Stull is vetting State staffers in her role as a senior adviser to the agency’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
Stull is also, according to Foreign Policy, scouring staffers’ social media accounts to gauge their political leanings, and is doing this for not only career diplomats, but other U.S. employees working for international institutions like the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
Mark Tushnet, who is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard University, told Grit Post that while it’s common for presidents to vet senior-level diplomats for their willingness to adhere to the White House’s policy positions, it’s another thing entirely to do the same with civil service employees (bureaucrats within federal agencies hired based on merit, rather than appointed).
He added that vetting civil service employees based on loyalty could, over time, deprive the administration of crucial geopolitical knowledge that sycophants favorable to the administration may not have.
“We decided generations ago that diplomacy should be conducted by two kinds of people — politically appointed people who would be particularly attuned to the policies preferred by the incumbent administration, and career civil servants, who would develop expertise to support whatever policies any administration had,” Tushnet said in an email. “[B]y moving political concerns further down into the career civil service, the administration runs the risk of losing the expertise (about specific nations, or about different regions) that would actually help it advance its goals.”
“It’s bad policy to try to ensure loyalty to a single administration within the career service — and it’s pro[b]ably illegal as well,” he continued.
Foreign Policy’s unnamed sources didn’t elaborate on whether or not Stull’s vetting of employees’ loyalty to the Trump administration had the direct approval of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, her vetting campaign has angered many within the agency, prompting three senior-level officials — Molly Phee, Erin Barclay, and Nerissa Cook — to make their exit.
Purging the civil service of workers whose political views are not in line with the administration is something authoritarian regimes have done in the past. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum chronicled how, shortly after becoming Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler passed the Civil Service Law in April of 1933, which purged all Jews from government agencies overseeing the economy, law, and cultural life.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.