Sen. Bob Menendez Seeks Hatch Act Probe of Mike Pompeo’s Trips to Kansas

Sen. Bob Menendez Seeks Hatch Act Probe of Mike Pompeo’s Trips to Kansas


By:  Jessica Donati and Lindsay Wise
Wall Street Journal

A senior Senate Democrat filed a complaint on Tuesday about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s repeated trips to Kansas, saying they warranted an investigation into whether he was engaging in political activity while traveling in an official capacity on taxpayer funds.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, submitted the complaint in a letter to the Office of Special Counsel calling for a review into Mr. Pompeo’s activities for potentially violating the Hatch Act.

Mr. Pompeo’s repeated trips to his home state have fueled speculation in Kansas about a possible run for Senate in 2020, for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.). Mr. Pompeo repeatedly has denied any plans to run for office, most recently on Monday, when he told Fox News he had decided against a Senate bid.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity in an official capacity at any time. The president is an exception to that rule; Mr. Pompeo is not. The OSC, an independent federal agency, investigates alleged violations of the act.

Mr. Menendez’s complaint cited a Wall Street Journal article that disclosed that Mr. Pompeo discussed the Senate race in Kansas with billionaire and GOP donor Charles Koch during a visit to Wichita last week. It wasn’t known whether Mr. Koch talked to Mr. Pompeo about entering the race for Mr. Roberts’ seat.

The State Department and representatives of Mr. Koch declined to comment on the meeting. The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Mr.Menendez’s complaint.

Mr. Menendez also said that promoting U.S. workforce development—which Mr. Pompeo cited as the purpose of his trip—doesn’t fall into the State Department’s area of responsibility.

Penalties for violations of the Hatch Act can range from an official reprimand to a civil penalty of up to $1,000. More serious infringements can risk suspension, termination or a ban of up to five years from federal employment for individuals.

In June, the OSC—a watchdog agency that isn’t affiliated with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation—found that top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway was a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act for attacking Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity, and recommended her removal.

David Kensinger, a GOP consultant in Kansas, said Mr. Pompeo has always scrupulously abided by federal ethics laws. “I’m confident any review would reach the same conclusion,” Mr. Kensinger said.

Last year, Mr. Menendez was himself cleared of alleged federal corruption charges, in which prosecutors accused him of a role in a nearly $1 million bribery scheme involving political contributions and gifts.