He held the same kind of quiet meeting in December with Republican donors over a lodge dinner on a State Division journey to London.
And final October, he huddled with Charles G. Koch, the Republican billionaire and a longtime supporter of his, whereas on an official go to to Kansas aboard a authorities plane.
In every of these cases, Mr. Pompeo didn’t put the visits on his public schedule. He and his aides prevented telling the reporters touring with them in regards to the conferences, although some information organizations reported them afterward. And so they occurred as Mr. Pompeo was contemplating a run for the Senate from his adopted house state of Kansas and as he nurtures plans for a presidential bid in 2024.
Mr. Pompeo, President Trump’s most loyal and powerful aide, has not tried to cover his political ambitions. However he has chosen to not disclose sure conferences that seemed to be linked to these plans whereas on taxpayer-funded journeys. The precise variety of the conferences is unclear, although there’s a sample of exercise.
For a few of Mr. Pompeo’s official travels, the State Division does announce that he meets with American company leaders — that was the case when the secretary visited finance sector executives in New York Metropolis in early March — however the division provides no additional particulars on the journeys.
Such actions are coming below higher scrutiny after congressional aides mentioned final weekend that the State Division inspector normal, Steve A. Linick, who was fired by Mr. Trump final Friday at Mr. Pompeo’s urging, had opened an investigation into potential misuse of department resources by Mr. Pompeo for the non-public good thing about him and his spouse.
Some Republican allies defend Mr. Pompeo’s conferences with political and company figures on official journeys.
“What’s he presupposed to do — not attain out and have social interplay with enterprise leaders as a result of his title has been related to the presidential race? It’s a part of the job,” mentioned Alan Cobb, the president and chief govt of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a longtime good friend to Mr. Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo. “And the very fact is, most rich enterprise leaders are political donors — good luck discovering one who is just not.”
But Mr. Pompeo’s political conferences — and his home travels below State Division auspices — have attracted the eye of critics who accuse him of pursuing a private agenda on taxpayer cash.
American Oversight, a liberal authorized watchdog group, has demanded that the State Division flip over particulars of all of Mr. Pompeo’s home journeys.
“It’s changing into more and more clear that Secretary Pompeo is utilizing the State Division to assist his political profession, and is utilizing the place of secretary of state to gather a Rolodex of highly effective individuals to assist him for no matter enterprise he sees subsequent,” mentioned Austin Evers, the group’s govt director, who labored on the State Division in the course of the Obama administration.
Congressional aides mentioned they’d famous Mr. Pompeo’s unannounced facet visits whereas on diplomatic enterprise. Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, called for a special counsel investigation final 12 months into the legality of Mr. Pompeo’s frequent Kansas journeys. The Hatch Act forbids federal staff from utilizing their official positions to hold out partisan political actions, excluding the president and vp.
It’s unclear which of the investigations of Mr. Pompeo and his aides by the inspector normal’s workplace, if any, prompted Mr. Pompeo to suggest the firing of Mr. Linick, who had served as inspector normal since 2013, and whether or not the transfer was an act of retaliation to defend himself from accountability. Mr. Pompeo has mentioned it’s “patently false” that his actions had been in retaliation towards Mr. Linick due to any inquiries.
Democratic leaders in Congress have opened an investigation into the firing — they’ve demanded that businesses flip over related paperwork by Friday — and a few Republicans have criticized Mr. Trump’s transfer.
The president appointed an ally of Vice President Mike Pence’s, Stephen J. Akard, to be the appearing inspector normal. Mr. Akard went to the workplace on Monday, regardless of the obligatory 30-day congressional evaluation interval over Mr. Trump’s actions, and advised individuals there that he would preserve his ambassador-level State Division job, as head of the foreign missions office, whereas serving as inspector normal. In his new submit, he would oversee a employees of lots of engaged on inquiries into fraud and waste on the company. Congressional aides mentioned holding each positions was a battle of curiosity.
The State Division didn’t reply questions asking whether or not Mr. Pompeo was utilizing company assets to advance his private political objectives, together with visiting potential donors, on a few of his official journeys.
These questions have grown in current days due to information studies in regards to the Pompeos hosting about two dozen lavish “Madison Dinners” on the State Division for lots of of friends since Mr. Pompeo started his job as prime diplomat in April 2018. NBC Information, which obtained friends lists, reported the invited attendees included many outstanding executives and Republican donors, in addition to conservative media figures and Supreme Court docket justices. The one lawmakers invited had been Republicans.
Contact info from the dinners is distributed to Mrs. Pompeo’s private electronic mail deal with. A State Division political appointee who’s a longtime good friend of the household’s, Toni Porter, helps arrange the dinners in addition to home journeys and conferences for the Pompeos. Ms. Porter had been a focal point of Mr. Linick’s investigation into potential misuse of company assets.
Over the previous few months, Mr. Pompeo has met steadily with Brett O’Donnell, a Republican political guide who has suggested the secretary of state for six years, going again to when Mr. Pompeo was a congressman. Mr. O’Donnell, who declined to remark, has labored for a number of Republican presidential campaigns, together with these of George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. He was with Mr. Pompeo final July at a speech in Orlando, Fla.
Final month, the Nationwide Republican Senatorial Committee sent campaigns a 57-page technique memo written by Mr. O’Donnell advising candidates to assault China and usually keep away from defending Mr. Trump on his pandemic response.
Earlier than he dominated out a Senate run in early January, Mr. Pompeo traveled to Kansas 4 occasions in 2019 — three of them on State Division funds. He went to Wichita in October with Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter, to satisfy with college students; to Kansas State University in September for a overseas coverage speech; and to a Kansas City suburb in March to satisfy with enterprise leaders. It was in the course of the October journey that he quietly met with Mr. Koch and Dave Robertson, the president and chief working officer of Koch Industries, to debate a potential Senate run.
The Kansas Metropolis Star ran a scathing editorial on the frequent journeys with the headline: “Mike Pompeo, both give up and run for U.S. Senate in Kansas or focus in your day job.”
In January, on the finish of 5 days of journey largely by Latin America, Mr. Pompeo gave a 17-minute speech to about 400 individuals in Bushnell, Fla. Afterward, he hopped in his motorcade — out of sight of reporters — to go to The Villages, a set of retirement compounds. The deal with visited by Mr. Pompeo was listed on marketing campaign finance data as one for political contributions from Mark Morse, the top of the household that developed The Villages, according to The Tampa Bay Times, which obtained native regulation enforcement data.
Final December, whereas attending a NATO assembly in London, Mr. Pompeo slipped away from reporters to go to a dinner occasion at his lodge where the guests included Republican donors. On the occasion, which was hosted by the Hamilton Society, a bunch of conservative American and British businesspeople, the few dozen attendees had been advised to depart their telephones exterior to make sure that Mr. Pompeo’s remarks wouldn’t be recorded, CNN reported.
Different journeys that Mr. Pompeo has made with authorities assets however stored off the general public schedule embody ones to conclaves of businesspeople and officers the place discussions stay off-the-record. He went to the secretive annual Bilderberg Meeting whereas on a diplomatic journey to Switzerland final 12 months. He flew to the Allen & Firm Solar Valley Convention in Idaho in 2019 and likewise in 2017, when he was C.I.A. director. Officers say the journey comports along with his duties, however politicians aspiring to larger workplace additionally make necessary connections on these journeys.
He has made speeches to navy veterans in Indiana and Florida; has met with Senator Mitch McConnell, the bulk chief, earlier than an deal with in Kentucky; and has spoken on the annual American Affiliation of Christian Counselors convention in Tennessee. All of these had been introduced by the State Division.
Previous secretaries of state have hosted political donors on the State Division, and have additionally traveled to conferences with tycoons and given coverage speeches in the USA.
Hillary Clinton, who had presidential ambitions whereas serving as secretary of state, made official visits in the USA and stored in contact with Democratic donors.
However she didn’t often host dinners on the State Division for largely elite American friends on the size of what the Pompeos have accomplished, and he or she didn’t make prolonged official journeys to her adopted house state of New York whereas contemplating a Senate run there, as Mr. Pompeo was doing in Kansas. She had already served eight years as a senator from New York.
Jonathan Martin contributed reporting from Washington, and Mark Landler from London. Aishvarya Kavi and Zach Montague contributed analysis.