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US Diplomats used secret dissent cable to call for Trump’s removal after Capitol protests

President Donald Trump speaks next to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
February 04, 2021

Earlier this year, State Department officials used a secret dissent cable to condemn President Donald Trump for allegedly inciting the U.S. Capitol protest that turned violent on January 6, and collectively called for his removal via the 25th Amendment.

The cable was the second of its kind sent to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the chaotic week following the violent demonstration, a move rarely seen from American diplomats against a sitting U.S. president throughout the departments almost 232-year history, a Foreign Policy exclusive reported.

The cable criticized Pompeo for his “failure to issue a statement unequivocally acknowledging that President-Elect Biden won the 2020 election,” in addition to condemning the “President’s incitement of insurrectionist violence against the United States.”

Foreign Policy reported that one official who signed the cable said roughly 175 State Department officials had signed it.

Unlike the first cable, the second one extensively explained how Trump undermined U.S. foreign policy and democratic institutions, and explicitly called on Pompeo to support invoking the 25th Amendment.  

“To protect our Constitution from the threat posed by this President, we urge Secretary Pompeo to … publicly condemn in the strongest possible terms the role of the President in the assault on democratic values and American democracy” and “support all lawful mechanisms to mitigate ongoing threats to American democracy, including by consulting with Vice President Pence and the other principal officers of the Executive Departments regarding the possible implementation of the procedures provided for in Section 4 of the 25th Amendment,” the cable reads.

According to Foreign Policy, the cable’s contents branding the president as a threat to democracy appears to be unprecedented – most dissent cables have focused on department management practices and U.S. policies.

Pompeo denounced the Capitol Hill protest in a series of tweets, calling it “unacceptable.” He subsequently met with then President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of state pick Antony Blinken to “facilitate an orderly transition, and to ensure American interests are protected abroad.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized Pompeo for not condemning Trump specifically.  

“Our allies are looking on in horror at Wednesday’s events while autocrats are celebrating the perceived failure of American democracy. Meanwhile, Secretary Pompeo has barely said a word—unsurprising, given his own long-standing role as a Trump enabler. The House is moving toward impeachment because the threat President Trump poses to peace and security—here and abroad—can’t persist one day longer,” Meeks said in a statement to Foreign Policy. 

“Secretary Pompeo should listen for once to the lawyers and experts in his own Department and take action himself to curb this threat—anything less is cowardice and complicity,” he continued.

Using the dissent channel to criticize Trump for refusing to concede and for his alleged incitement of the Capitol demonstration garnered both support and condemnation from State Department officials. Some believe the channel was misused and will ultimately pull the diplomatic corps deeper into politics, while others said viewed the ability to voice their opposition to the president’s conduct on record as vital.

The State Department’s regulations manual protects diplomats against retaliation if they choose to use the secret channel. Since its creation in the 1970s, around 10 dissent cables have been sent each year in the department.