What did you EXPECT when you voted for a documented con-man?
As federal workers file out of the State Department at the end of a Washington workday, an elite group is often just arriving in the marbled, flag-lined lobby: Billionaire CEOs, Supreme Court justices, political heavyweights and ambassadors arrive in evening attire as they’re escorted by private elevator to dinner with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Until the coronavirus shut them down in March, the gatherings were known as “Madison Dinners” — elaborate, unpublicized affairs that Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo, began in 2018 and held regularly in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the government’s dime.
State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo’s political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo’s personal email address. The officials and others who attended discussed the dinners on condition of anonymity.
An NBC News investigation found that Pompeo held about two dozen Madison dinners since taking over in 2018. NBC News obtained a master guest list for every dinner through the end of 2019, as well as internal State Department calendars from before the pandemic emerged, showing that future dinners were on the books through at least October. The master list includes the names of nearly 500 invitees and specifies who accepted, although it is possible some individuals RSVP’d but did not show up in Foggy Bottom for dinner.
The records show that about 29 percent of the invitees came from the corporate world, while about a quarter of them hailed from the media or entertainment industries, with conservative media members heavily represented. About 30 percent work in politics or government, and just 14 percent were diplomats or foreign officials. Every single member of the House or the Senate who has been invited is a Republican.
The dinners are named after James Madison, America’s fourth president and fifth secretary of state, who made a habit of inviting foreign diplomats to exchange ideas over dinner. But historians could point to no precedent for a secretary of state’s playing host to such frequent gatherings, paid for by State Department funds, involving political and business leaders.
“Madison certainly paid his own entertainment expenses,” said Kevin Gutzman, a professor at Western Connecticut State University who wrote a biography of Madison.
The Madison dinners, which aren’t disclosed on Pompeo’s public schedule, add another element to what his critics say is a pattern of pushing the edge of the envelope by using government resources for potential personal or political gain.
State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who was abruptly fired Friday evening, was investigating whether Pompeo made a political appointee carry out personal errands like walking his dog, NBC News reported.
On Tuesday, a State Department official and two other people familiar with the matter identified the political appointee to NBC News as Toni Porter, who had also worked for Pompeo at the CIA and works currently in the Office of the Secretary of State. Emails reviewed by NBC News show Porter was the chief liaison between Pompeo’s office and the Office of the Chief of Protocol, which runs the Madison dinners.
It’s unclear whether the inspector general was also investigating the Madison dinners, but two administration officials told NBC News that Linick made some type of inquiry last week, before he was fired, to the protocol office. One of the officials said Pompeo’s office was then notified.