A watchdog group founded by a former Obama administration attorney filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the CIA and the State Department for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s emails.
American Oversight said it wants to investigate whether Pompeo has been subject to inappropriate outside influence during his tenure as head of the two federal agencies. The lawsuit comes amid speculation about Pompeo’s possible candidacy for the open U.S. Senate seat from Kansas in 2020.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asks for records of any email communication between Pompeo and top staffers on nongovernmental email addresses and records of communication between Pompeo and Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.
“America’s national security should be the Secretary of State’s number one priority. Every story about Mike Pompeo laying the groundwork for a Senate campaign in Kansas is a red flag that the country’s vital interests could be subordinated to selfish political ends,” Austin Evers, founder and executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement. “If Mike Pompeo is blurring the line between diplomacy and electioneering, the public has a right to know.”
American Oversight was founded in 2017 with the goal of uncovering misconduct and conflicts of interest in President Donald Trump’s administration.
Evers served as senior counsel at the State Department from 2014 to 2017 during President Barack Obama’s second term. Its staff is composed of other former Obama administration and Senate Democratic staffers.
The State Department and CIA did not immediately respond to the suit, which alleges a failure of the agencies to comply with Freedom of Information requests in a timely manner.
Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, has repeatedly downplayed his interest in the Senate seat. But speculation about a possible run has persisted because of a recruitment campaign by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and some public statements by the secretary that appear to leave the door open.
“I would have never dreamed that I’d be the secretary of state even a year before I became the director of the CIA, a year before that. And so I always leave open the possibility that something will change and my path in life will change too,” Pompeo told KCMO talk radio host Pete Mundo last week.
Pompeo also attended the annual dinner of the Kansas Society of Washington, D.C., last week, an event that drew every member of the Kansas congressional delegation and former Gov. Jeff Colyer.
American Oversight first filed Freedom of Information requests with the two agencies for Pompeo’s communication with staffers in November several weeks before Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, announced his retirement plans.
Additional requests for Pompeo’s communications with Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, were filed with the two agencies in February. The requests have yet to be fulfilled.
Evers said the two senators “are among the most hawkish members of the Senate, and regularly cheerlead the administration’s most cavalier foreign policy decisions. We want to assess how their views are shaping Secretary Pompeo’s leadership and U.S. foreign policy.”
The lawsuit recalls the controversy that plagued one of Pompeo’s Democratic predecessors, Hillary Clinton, during her 2016 run for president. The State Department faced multiple freedom of information lawsuits related to Clinton’s use of a private server that led to the release of thousands of her emails.
American Oversight has been aggressive in pursuing private email use by Trump administration officials.
It filed a similar lawsuit against the Department of Education last week for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ emails. The group previously uncovered private email use for government business last year by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser.
American Oversight said in its November request that the State Department could limit its search for nongovernmental emails to Susan Pompeo, the secretary’s wife, and several top staff members, including Toni Porter, who served as Pompeo’s district director in Wichita during his time in Congress before continuing on as an aide for Pompeo at both the CIA and the State Department.
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