WASHINGTON — Less than three months after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was sworn in, his son, Nick, reached out to thank State Department officials for a private tour they had given him and his mother, Susan Pompeo, of the agency’s in-house museum.
“I also want to reinforce my willingness to help your mission in any way I can,” Nick Pompeo wrote. “We view this as a family endeavor, so if you think there is any place I can add value, don’t hesitate to reach out.”
He also had an ask: Could he or the software company for which he was a sales executive be involved in a coming “data hackathon” event the State Department was planning? In an email, he asked for details about dates, times, volunteer opportunities and “how I or anyone at my company could help.”
The State Department said Pompeo’s company didn’t join the hackathon, an educational event focused on computer programming skills. But the request, which was included in hundreds of pages of emails obtained by NBC News, sheds light on how the Pompeos have repeatedly blurred the lines between official government business and domestic or personal matters.
Both Congress and the State Department’s inspector general have been investigating potential misuse of government resources by Mike Pompeo and his wife.
The emails show that Susan Pompeo routinely gives instructions to State Department officials from her personal email address about everything from travel plans and restaurant reservations to the elite Madison Dinners that NBC News reported on in May.
Many involve routine matters like logistics and scheduling for official events that would involve coordination with the secretary’s spouse in any administration. But other requests, such as seeking assistance with planning a multiday visit for an elite group of young executives from Kansas, appear to be less directly connected to advancing the State Department’s core mission.
They include maintenance requests for the house the Pompeos rent on a Washington-area military base, which Susan Pompeo appears to be routing through the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. Emails show special agents from the service’s Secretary of State Protective Division updating Susan Pompeo about repairs to the HVAC system in 2018 and to the porch and stairs in 2019.
“The dryer isn’t hooked up. … I think you told me someone was coming to fix that?” Susan Pompeo said via text message to a State Department official, whose name is redacted, in September 2018. “Ma’am – On it, I was told it was fixed. Let me get you an answer,” the official responded by email hours later.
To be sure, there are legitimate reasons that Diplomatic Security officials, whose mandate includes protecting the secretary, might be kept in the loop about workers who need access to his home. But Pompeo’s unusual housing arrangement, in which he rents military housing normally reserved for flag officers for an undisclosed amount, has raised questions before.
“Diplomatic Security establishes all protocols and specifications for protectees based on threat levels,” a State Department spokesperson said on condition of anonymity. “Mrs. Pompeo has been directed to contact Diplomatic Security before any non-family members come to their home.”
The emails, all of which were sent to or from State Department officials, were turned over to NBC News in response to a lawsuit filed under the Freedom of Information Act, which is still pending. NBC News requested emails involving Susan Pompeo’s Gmail address last November.
The emails are heavily redacted, citing FOIA exemptions for personal privacy. In an email from September 2019, with the subject line “5 Day Guest Schedule,” the only word not redacted in the entire email is the sign-off, “Best.”
Stephen Gillers, who teaches law and ethics at New York University School of Law, said that Susan Pompeo’s use of personal email to carry out social aspects of her role as the secretary’s spouse was “unwise” but that it did not appear to constitute a violation of ethics rules.
“There are certainly ‘optics’ issues here. It can look like Pompeo is using the office to ingratiate himself with others, possibly future supporters in a 2024 White House race,” Gillers said. Still, he said, “I don’t see that they used the office for financial gain.”
Pompeo has defended his wife’s high-profile role at the State Department, describing her as a “force multiplier” even as U.S. diplomats have raised concerns about her use of government resources and her frequent presence on official foreign trips. This week, Susan Pompeo is tagging along as the secretary visits India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Maldives.
As a member of Congress from Kansas, Pompeo became one of the most forceful critics of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of personal email to conduct government business, telling CNN in 2015, “She had these in a place that didn’t have the benefit of the State Department’s security system.”
Ahead of the election next week, Pompeo has used his perch as secretary to pledge, at President Donald Trump’s demand, to try to release more of Clinton’s emails from more than six years ago.
Yet on one occasion, in October 2018, when Pompeo’s office sent him an advance schedule including nonpublic information — such as a breakfast with CIA Director Gina Haspel, a secure phone call with Nikki Haley, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and exact travel times to and from the office — Susan Pompeo’s Gmail address was copied on the email, which is partly redacted and includes a notation indicating that it contains private personally identifiable information.
When the public version of Pompeo’s schedule for that day was released later, the only item on it was an afternoon meeting with the visiting foreign minister of Cyprus.
“The State Department employee who sent this email acted appropriately and we have no security concerns about this practice,” the department’s spokesperson said in response to an inquiry about the email.
During his years as Trump’s top diplomat, Pompeo has scrupulously nurtured his political ties to his home state, Kansas, through frequent visits and interviews with local radio stations — so much so that it triggered intense speculation that he would run for the Senate there this year and led the editorial board of The Kansas City Star to urge him to “quit his rather important day job and do that.”
As speculation about a potential Senate run was ramping up in 2019, emails appeared to show State Department employees working at Susan Pompeo’s direction to organize parts of a multiday visit to Washington for members of the Kansas chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization and their families.
The Young Presidents’ Organization, or YPO, is an elite global networking club for wealthy CEOs under 45. Pompeo and his wife are both former members. In the Senate questionnaire that he submitted in December 2016 for his confirmation as CIA director, Pompeo said he had been the group’s education chair for more than 15 years.
The emails about the YPO visit are from March, April and June 2019. They include one with the subject line “A couple projects” in which Susan Pompeo laid out a list of tasks for staffers, including one labeled “YPO Kansas Family College.”
“Could you please send me an update on this project ASAP?” she asked.
The next day, the unnamed staffer responded with an “Overview/Update” about the YPO visit. The itinerary: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday, dinner and a tour at the International Spy Museum on Thursday and breakfast Friday for 70 at the State Department.
“Library of Congress Tour confirmed for the group. Still working on details for itinerary/breaking into smaller groups, etc.,” the government employee wrote back.
The emails show that the Friday breakfast, hosted in the neoclassical Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room, was to include a high-level State Department official or a human resources representative to speak about “internships and careers.” Guests were to be given “Swagger buttons,” a reference to Pompeo’s rebranding of the agency as the “Department of Swagger.” Pompeo later tweeted about the event.
The State Department spokesperson said the department did not pay for the breakfast and disputed that employees planned the entire visit for the YPO group.
Pompeo’s conduct as secretary has come under growing scrutiny since May, when he had the State Department’s independent watchdog, Inspector General Steve Linick, fired. It later emerged that Linick had several investigations underway involving Pompeo and his office, which the Office of the Inspector General, or OIG, has continued after Linick’s ouster under a series of acting inspectors general.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Pompeo is stonewalling about whether he has used the State Department “as a personal travel agency or political exploratory committee.”
“My office has recently confirmed that Mr. Pompeo is refusing to give OIG an interview in its probe into misuse of resources by himself and his wife,” Engel said. “I believe he’s trying to run out the clock and avoid investigators until he leaves office.” The State Department and the inspector general’s office had no immediate comment on that claim.
Toni Porter, an adviser to the secretary who also worked for him at the CIA and in Congress, told the House in August that she is the primary point of contact for Susan Pompeo at the State Department. She revealed that her tasks had included making dinner reservations and helping with the Pompeos’ personal Christmas cards, but she said she takes only “direction” from Susan Pompeo, not “assignments.”
“The work that I get assigned is from the secretary,” Porter testified. “There are times that Mrs. Pompeo relays that work to me.”
An October 2019 email obtained by NBC News shows Susan Pompeo and State Department officials planning a visit to Athens, Greece. Susan Pompeo joined her husband on the official diplomatic trip to Greece, Montenegro, North Macedonia and the Holy See.
“Decision point: Would you like the Jewelry Museum, or the Art Museum with Mareva,” the wife of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, an email to Susan Pompeo ahead of the trip read.
The emails also show the Pompeos’ being attuned to the potential optics issues about any perception of using the office to do special favors for the politically connected, including the Madison Dinners, at which the Pompeos have hosted Republican lawmakers, CEOs and Supreme Court justices for lavish evenings paid for by the taxpayer.
In March 2019, Susan Pompeo wrote to an unnamed official in the secretary’s office that she had had a “lengthy conversation with Mike yesterday” about State Department tours, including those for guests at the Madison Dinners, and “VIP tours” that were continuing even though tours for the public were on hold.
“Starting immediately, they should be called ‘PRIVATE TOURS,'” Susan Pompeo wrote, highlighting the preferred phrasing in bold. “All citizens are VIP/important.”