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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "State Department"

Despite Coronavirus, Federal Workers Head to the Office

WASHINGTON — As coronavirus cases surge around the country and epidemiologists urge caution, the federal government is heading back to work, jeopardizing pandemic progress in one of the few regions where confirmed infections continue to decline: the nation’s capital.

At the Energy Department’s headquarters, 20 percent of employees — possibly as many as 600 — have been authorized to return on a full- or part-time basis. The Interior Department said in a statement last month that it anticipated about 1,000 workers to soon return daily to its main office near the White House.

The Defense Department has authorized up to 80 percent of its work force to return to office spaces, which could result in as many as 18,000 employees inside the Pentagon building, according to a spokeswoman. Many of them are already there.

Private-sector employers remain hesitant to put workers back in their seats. Restaurant and bar owners around the country are shutting their doors anew. But agency chiefs at the nation’s largest employer, the 2.1 million-strong federal government, are taking their cues from an impatient President Trump and summoning employees to their desks.

“Federal employees have been working throughout the entire pandemic,” said Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers in the District of Columbia. “To move them to a work site so the administration can say they reopened the government is irresponsible.”

Governments in the capital region are less than enthusiastic about a rush back. Coronavirus cases in Washington, Maryland and Virginia are now holding steady, but just days ago, cases in Washington had been declining.

A panel of public health experts chosen to inform Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s reopening strategy in Washington recommended initially capping office buildings at 25 percent capacity, a threshold some federal agencies will soon exceed. In April, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and Ms. Bowser signed a letter urging the Trump administration to continue encouraging telework for the federal work force as much as possible.

And many private employers in the region, like Capital One, have closed their offices to nonessential workers until at least Labor Day.

But federal back-to-work orders are not changing. And that has local epidemiologists worried.

“You don’t want to negate all of the hard work that the D.C., Maryland, Virginia regions have done to reduce the number of cases of coronavirus in our region, by then returning everyone to work and potentially reversing the trends,” said Amanda Castel, an epidemiology professor at George Washington University.

Several agencies are still encouraging some telework while pressing supervisors and managers to identify employees to bring back to offices immediately.

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Updated 2020-07-06T13:20:20.540Z

The Energy Department began that process last week. According to a back-to-work order obtained by The New York Times, employees asked to report to the department’s offices will be questioned about flulike symptoms or contacts with coronavirus patients. The document did not say whether workers would undergo temperature screenings. It did say that while masks would be provided, employees would be encouraged, but not required, to wear them.

Employees with reservations but without heightened risk factors such as age or pre-existing conditions would still be required to return. Those tapped to come in could be given as little as a week’s notice to prepare.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_174155301_9d45dd93-bf35-4397-b474-4b8a9dd417a9-articleLarge Despite Coronavirus, Federal Workers Head to the Office Workplace Hazards and Violations washington dc Virginia Veterans Affairs Department United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J States (US) State Department office of personnel management Labor and Jobs Interior Department Government Employees Environmental Protection Agency Energy Department Disease Rates Defense Department Coronavirus Reopenings Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) American Federation of Government Employees
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Beyond the Interior Department’s Washington headquarters, which are stirring back to life, department leaders said its “bureaus and offices should begin bringing employees back to office spaces to better satisfy operational needs,” according to agency work orders.

The department said it was working to provide face coverings but stopped short of requiring them. Employees were asked to voluntarily observe signs stating new occupancy limits in certain rooms and urged to wear masks in crowded spaces where social distancing could not be maintained.

“At the I.R.S., we were told that employees were going to be coming back into buildings that had been cleaned, and I’ve gotten a number of reports recently where employees have gone back into buildings that were in no way cleaned,” said Tony Reardon, the national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers.

“I think employees simply feel like the agency doesn’t care about them personally,” Mr. Reardon said. “It is taking a morale that was already low in the federal workplace and driving it even lower.”

In returning to normal operations, most federal agencies have chosen to follow the three-phase reopening plan for employers laid out under the Trump administration’s “Opening Up America Again” guidelines. The recommendations provide few details relative to those adopted by many states, which announced a four-phased approach with more surgical regulations for different business sectors resuming daily operations.

The White House plan advises employers to begin reopening in areas where coronavirus cases have fallen for 14 days and where hospitals have not been overwhelmed. In the Washington region, only the District of Columbia can claim continued progress.

Just last week, when daily new cases topped 50,000 nationwide, the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, warned that increases across the South and West threatened regions that were still relatively secure.

“When you have an outbreak in one part of the country, even though in other parts of the country they are doing well, they are vulnerable,” Dr. Fauci told a Senate committee last Tuesday.

But the government appears undeterred. The Defense Department, which moved to a Phase 2 plan on June 29, could have up to 18,000 employees in their Pentagon seats, according to a spokeswoman. The department’s re-entry guide states that random temperature screenings will be given at entrances, all workers must wear a cloth face covering inside the Pentagon, and gatherings must be limited to 50 people or fewer.

In planning for workers to return, agencies are navigating sometimes conflicting guidance from the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Personnel Management and state and city leaders. The result is a patchwork of plans.

The Department of Homeland Security, for example, is still stressing telework; the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has given employees the option to extend work from home as late as September.

“This is the fallout of not having a countrywide plan for how to go about this and having certain standards that everyone has to meet and adhere to,” Professor Castel said.

Many federal agencies operate field offices, bases and satellite centers across states and territories, forcing them to manage reopening in regions with widely differing conditions.

The State Department moved forward in June with Phase 1 guidelines, in part to resume passport processing in some offices outside Washington. But four of its foreign posts had already fully reopened. The department declined to say which missions were fully operational.

Credit…Michael A. McCoy for The New York Times

For other agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates health centers and offices across all 50 states, a unified reopening strategy is all but impossible.

“A central planning solution for resuming regular operations makes no sense here because some areas of the country will take longer to recover, while other areas have seen minimal cases,” Robert L. Wilkie, the secretary of veterans affairs, said in a statement in May. “That’s why we’re letting local conditions dictate our next steps.”

Spokesmen for several agencies said they were closely monitoring the different postures taken by Virginia and Maryland, from which many federal employees commute.

On Wednesday, Virginia entered the final phase of its reopening plan, even allowing gatherings of up to 250 people. But a spokeswoman for the governor said the state “continues to strongly encourage office workers to telework.”

Federal officials appear ready to ignore that encouragement.

“We think this rush to reopen is very hazardous,” said Mr. Kelley, the union president. “Employees’ health should be the No. 1 priority of the agencies, not scoring political points for rushing employees back.”

Concerns about the risks facing federal employees have been brewing for months. On April 27, Democrats on the Senate governmental affairs committee sent a letter to the Office of Personnel Management, saying the office had not given federal employees clear advice on how and when to return to office work.

That is still true.

Environmental Protection Agency officials said their reopening plans were devised by local officials in each state, and all E.P.A. facilities and will be evaluated weekly by agency scientists using C.D.C. data. As of last week, the Washington office was still in Phase 1, and the agency’s New York-based office began the process of reopening on June 30.

But federal workers noted that since each phase lasts only 14 days, the third and final phase in which the agency will expect employees to return to their offices could occur in August if downward trends continue.

“It’s just too fast,” said Antony Tseng, the president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3911, the labor union for employees in the E.P.A.’s New York office.

The inspector general for the E.P.A. announced on Wednesday an investigation into how the agency was carrying out the Trump administration’s reopening plan and the measures it had taken to protect employees.

“Without a vaccine, there are still a lot of scared employees,” Mr. Tseng said. “It’s making us feel like we are lab rats.”

Mikayla Bouchard, Lisa Friedman, Lara Jakes and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Late Action on Virus Prompts Fears Over Safety of U.S. Diplomats in Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON — Inside the sprawling American Embassy compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a coronavirus outbreak was spreading. Dozens of embassy employees became sick last month, and more than 20 others were quarantined after a birthday barbecue became a potential vector for the spread of the disease.

A Sudanese driver for the top diplomats died.

A bleak analysis from within the embassy that circulated in closed channels in Riyadh and Washington late last month likened the coronavirus situation in Saudi Arabia to that of New York City in March, when an outbreak was set to explode. The assessment said the response from the Saudi government — a close partner of the Trump White House — was insufficient, even as hospitals were getting overwhelmed and health care workers were falling ill.

Some in the embassy even took the extraordinary step of conveying information to Congress outside official channels, saying that they did not believe the State Department’s leadership or the American ambassador to the kingdom, John P. Abizaid, were taking the situation seriously enough, and that most American Embassy employees and their families should be evacuated. The State Department took those steps months ago at missions elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia and Russia.

The episode, based on accounts from eight current and one former official, highlights the perils facing American diplomacy with a global pandemic still raging, and the frictions between front-line diplomats, intelligence officers and defense officials on one side and senior Trump administration officials on the other who are eager to preserve relations with nations like Saudi Arabia that have special ties with the Trump White House. The Saudi royal family has exercised enormous influence on Middle East and energy policies, as well as on controversial arms sales that President Trump has personally championed.

The State Department appeared to react Saturday because of quiet bipartisan congressional pressure, announcing the “voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Mission to Saudi Arabia.” But some senior embassy officials see that as a half-measure. They had pushed for an evacuation of most of the 400 to 500 American employees at the Riyadh Embassy and two consulates, people with knowledge of the situation said.

In response to questions, the State Department said in a statement on Wednesday that it “has no higher priority than ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and U.S. citizens.” It said that the voluntary departure “is appropriate given current conditions associated with the pandemic” and that “the pandemic has affected mission staff and our community in Saudi Arabia.”

The Saudi royal family would not welcome any move by the American government to reduce the number of diplomats and intelligence officers in the kingdom amid the pandemic, said Douglas London, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who served in numerous countries in the Middle East.

“The Saudis have never been subtle in discouraging U.S. officials from outward actions that might cast the kingdom as appearing weak, incompetent or vulnerable in difficult times,” he said.

He said that placating the kingdom was even more important for the Trump administration, which has made America’s relationship with the royal family a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

“As the State Department weighs the safety of American personnel and their dependents in the midst of the kingdom’s Covid outbreak, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the White House remain more focused on the consequences to their relationship with de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman than the risks to Americans, private and official alike,” he said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_172300854_2d91e134-200e-4e0d-bc94-ae080b558570-articleLarge Late Action on Virus Prompts Fears Over Safety of U.S. Diplomats in Saudi Arabia Workplace Hazards and Violations United States Politics and Government United States International Relations State Department Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Abizaid, John P
Credit…Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Trump has made strengthening America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and its young crown prince a focus of his foreign policy. The president has strongly advocated American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the kingdom’s role in leading an air war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.

Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, maintains close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed, and the Trump administration is trying to push through sales to the kingdom of two arms and intelligence surveillance packages worth more than $500 million, despite a congressional freeze on the exports. Last year, the administration declared an “emergency” to bypass a congressional hold on sales of $8.2 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — a potentially illegal action that became the focus of a State Department inspector general investigation.

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Updated 2020-07-01T21:38:59.273Z

The American Embassy in Riyadh, a walled enclave dotted with palm trees in the Diplomatic Quarter of the capital city, is one of the most important American diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and home to one of the biggest C.I.A. stations in the region. Hundreds of American diplomats, intelligence officers and their families live in the embassy compound and nearby residential complexes.

The growing alarm in the American Embassy in recent weeks has come as Saudi Arabia and its neighbors struggle with a surge of coronavirus cases and embassy officials raise serious doubts about the kingdom’s readiness to deal with the pandemic.

The Saudi government announced it would drastically reduce the number of Muslims allowed to do the hajj, the annual pilgrimage that brings millions of people to Mecca to fulfill one of the requirements of the Islamic faith. It is believed to be the first time since the modern kingdom was founded in 1932 that the pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July, was effectively canceled. Dozens of members of the royal family fell ill this spring.

Saudi Arabia has reported about 4,000 new cases of coronavirus per day, among the fastest-growing caseloads in the world. Despite that, the government has ended lockdown measures.

The analysis that circulated in Washington, written by embassy staff members and reviewed by The New York Times, said that the cases were likely to spike through July and that there would probably be a shortage of hospital beds. The embassy’s own medical unit was already overwhelmed with the rise of coronavirus cases among mission employees and their families.

Around mid-June, the embassy’s emergency action committee, composed of senior officials at the diplomatic outpost, approved departure for “high-risk individuals,” the message said, but the State Department had denied the request and advised the embassy “to do whatever it can to hold on until the Covid problem improves.” At the missions, working from home became the norm.

The alarm in Congress sounded two weeks ago when an encrypted message making similar points as the embassy analysis arrived in the inbox of a congressional official working for Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The sender did not purport to be an employee of the U.S. government, according to a congressional official, but the message contained detailed assertions about the coronavirus threat to embassy personnel in the kingdom. The message was sent on behalf of some embassy employees, another person familiar with it said.

Mr. Schiff’s office passed the message to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has oversight over the diplomatic missions.


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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Based on the message and follow-up inquiries, congressional officials became concerned about the rising tensions inside the embassy, and the lack of confidence by some senior employees there in Mr. Abizaid’s ability to prioritize the safety of American personnel above political considerations.

Credit…Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Mr. Abizaid, a former Army four-star general and an Arabic speaker, once commanded all American forces in the Middle East as the head of U.S. Central Command, which works closely with Saudi Arabia. He was the top general in the region as the Iraq war intensified in the mid-2000s.

Congressional officials requested a briefing from the State Department. Last week, agency officials gave two briefings to aides from Republican and Democratic congressional offices, and the aides put pressure on the officials to allow employees to leave Saudi Arabia.

Department officials said that 32 of the 50 or so embassy employees confirmed or presumed to have Covid-19 had recovered, one congressional official said. Most of the patients were not Americans.

The driver for Mr. Abizaid and his deputy is one of at least two U.S. diplomatic mission employees in the Middle East and North Africa who have died, the official said. The State Department confirmed the death of a staff employee in Saudi Arabia.

More recently, officials on the embassy’s emergency action committee recommended to Mr. Abizaid that most American employees should be ordered to evacuate, with only emergency personnel staying. Mr. Abizaid has not acted on that. (The State Department did not answer specific questions about Mr. Abizaid’s decisions.)

On Saturday, the department announced the “voluntary departure” decision for the three missions in Saudi Arabia. The message said the department was trying to arrange repatriation flights since international air transportation had been shut down. The announcement is not a significant step beyond a similar action the State Department took in March that applied to all missions worldwide and that ended in May.

Some officials said that given the surge in Covid-19 cases in Saudi Arabia and the shortage of adequate medical facilities — at least one American citizen with Covid-19 was turned away at a hospital — the State Department and Mr. Abizaid were still failing to take the proper actions.

In doing what is formally called an “authorized departure,” the department is most likely leaving the bulk of the embassy staff in place. The more drastic step of an “ordered departure” — which the chief of mission has the right to take — would require most employees to evacuate, leaving only a skeleton crew remaining to handle emergencies.

Other missions in the Middle East have already gone to ordered departure based on the virus threat, including in Beirut and Baghdad in late March.

The State Department shuttered its consulate in the Chinese city where the initial coronavirus outbreak occurred, Wuhan, and the Vladivostok Consulate in Russia. At other missions in China, including the Beijing Embassy, as well as ones in Indonesia and Mongolia, the department ordered the departures of any family member under 21 — so most of the parents left as well.

Ben Hubbard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

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Trump’s New Russia Problem: Unread Intelligence and Missing Strategy

Westlake Legal Group 01dc-russia-assess-facebookJumbo Trump’s New Russia Problem: Unread Intelligence and Missing Strategy United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Taliban State Department Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Putin, Vladimir V Pompeo, Mike North Atlantic Treaty Organization Group of Eight Embargoes and Sanctions Cyberwarfare and Defense Cold War Era Afghanistan War (2001- ) Afghanistan

The intelligence finding that Russia was most likely paying a bounty for the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan has evoked a strange silence from President Trump and his top national security officials.

He insists he never saw the intelligence, though it was part of the President’s Daily Brief just days before a peace deal was signed with the Taliban in February.

The White House says it was not even appropriate for him to be briefed because the president only sees “verified” intelligence — prompting derision from officials who have spent years working on the daily brief and say it is most valuable when filled with dissenting interpretations and alternative explanations.

But it doesn’t require a high-level clearance for the government’s most classified information to see that the list of Russian aggressions in recent weeks rivals some of the worst days of the Cold War.

There have been new cyberattacks on Americans working from home to exploit vulnerabilities in their corporate systems and continued concern about new playbooks for Russian actors seeking to influence the November election. Off the coast of Alaska, Russian jets have been testing American air defenses, sending U.S. warplanes scrambling to intercept them.

It is all part of what Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Monday was “the latest in a series of escalations from Putin’s regime.”

Yet missing from all this is a strategy for pushing back — old-fashioned deterrence, to pluck a phrase from the depths of the Cold War — that could be employed from Afghanistan to Ukraine, from the deserts of Libya to the vulnerable voter registration rolls in battleground states.

Officially, in Mr. Trump’s national security strategy, Russia is described as a “revisionist power” whose efforts to peel away NATO allies and push the United States out of the Middle East have to be countered. But the paper strategy differs significantly from the reality.

There are at least two Russia strategies in this divided administration. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, usually so attuned to Mr. Trump, speaks for the hawkish wing: He came to the State Department podium a few weeks ago to declare that Crimea, annexed by Russia six years ago, will never be recognized as Russian territory.

Then there is the president, who “repeatedly objected to criticizing Russia and pressed us not to be so critical of Russia publicly,” his former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, notes in his recent memoir. A parade of other former national security aides have emerged, bruised, with similar reports.

Yet the nature of intelligence — always incomplete and not always definitive — gives Mr. Trump an opening to dismiss anything that challenges his worldview.

“By definition, intelligence means looking at pieces of a puzzle,” said Glenn S. Gerstell, who retired this year as the general counsel of the National Security Agency, before the Russian bounty issue was front and center. “It’s not unusual to have inconsistencies. And the President’s Daily Brief, not infrequently, would say that there is no unanimity in the intelligence community, and would explain the dissenting views or the lack of corroboration.”

That absence of clarity has not slowed Mr. Trump when it comes to placing new sanctions on China and Iran, who pose very different kinds of challenges to American power.

Yet the president made no apparent effort to sort through evidence on Russia, even before his most recent call with President Vladimir V. Putin, when he invited the Russian leader to a Group of 7 meeting planned for September in Washington. Russia has been banned from the group since the Crimea invasion, and Mr. Trump was essentially restoring it to the G8 over the objection of many of America’s closest allies.

The White House will not say whether he would have acted differently had he been aware of the Russian bounty for American lives.

“If you’re going to be on the phone with Vladimir Putin, this is something you ought to know,” said Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who managed the impeachment trial against Mr. Trump. “This is something you ought to know if you’re inviting Russia back into the G8.”

It is just the latest example of how, in Mr. Trump’s “America First” approach, he rarely talks about Russia strategy other than to say it would be good to be friends. He relies on his gut and talks about his “good relationship” with Mr. Putin, echoing a line he often uses about Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator.

So it is little surprise that after three and a half years, there is often hesitation to bring Mr. Trump damning intelligence about Russia.

And in this case, there was another element: concern inside the White House about any intelligence findings that might interfere with the administration’s announcement of a peace deal with the Taliban.

After months of broken-off negotiations, Mr. Trump was intent on announcing the accord in February, as a prelude to declaring that he was getting Americans out of Afghanistan. As one senior official described it, the evidence about Russia could have threatened that deal because it suggested that after 18 years of war, Mr. Trump was letting Russia chase the last American troops out of the country.

The warning to Mr. Trump appeared in the president’s briefing book — which Mr. Bolton said almost always went unread — in late February. On Feb. 28, the president issued a statement that a signing ceremony for the Afghan deal was imminent.

“When I ran for office,” Mr. Trump said in the statement, “I promised the American people I would begin to bring our troops home, and see to end this war. We are making substantial progress on that promise.”

He dispatched Mr. Pompeo to witness the signing with the Taliban. And as Mr. Trump noted in a tweet over the weekend, there have been no major attacks on American troops since. (Instead, the attacks have focused on Afghan troops and civilians.)

Russia’s complicity in the bounty plot came into sharper focus on Tuesday as The New York Times reported that American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.

The United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban before. But the newly revealed information about financial transfers bolstered other evidence of the plot, including detainee interrogations, and helped reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees.

Lawmakers on Tuesday emerged from closed briefings on the matter to challenge why Mr. Trump and his advisers failed to recognize the seriousness of the intelligence assessment.

“I’m concerned they didn’t pursue it as aggressively or comprehensively as they should have,” said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who heads the House Armed Services Committee. “Clearly there was evidence that Russia was paying the bounties.”

The oddity, of course, is that despite Mr. Trump’s deference to the Russians, relations between Moscow and Washington under the Trump administration have nose-dived.

That was clear in the stiff sentence handed down recently in Moscow against Paul N. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, after his conviction on espionage charges in what the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, called a “mockery of justice.”

Even Russian state television now regularly mocks Mr. Trump as a buffoon, very different from its gushing tone during the 2016 presidential election.

Andrew Higgins contributed reporting.

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U.S. Halts High-Tech Exports to Hong Kong Over Security Concerns

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration placed new restrictions on U.S. exports of defense equipment and certain high-technology products to Hong Kong on Monday, in response to a new Chinese law aimed at tightening Beijing’s control over the territory.

The administration determined in late May that Hong Kong no longer had significant autonomy under Chinese rule, and promised to begin stripping away Hong Kong’s privileged status with the United States if Beijing continued to crack down on civil liberties in Hong Kong.

Chinese lawmakers are poised to approve a national security law as soon as this week that could drastically curb protests and other criticisms of the Chinese government, infringing on an arrangement that has made Hong Kong, which China ceded to Britain in 1842 and which ceased being a British colony in 1997, autonomous in many respects.

In separate statements on Monday, the State Department said that it would end exports of U.S. military equipment to Hong Kong, while the Commerce Department said that Hong Kong would now be subject to the same types of controls on certain technology exports that apply to China. Those controls block American companies from selling certain types of sensitive, high-technology products that could threaten national security to China, Russia and other countries deemed to be a security risk.

The effect of the new restrictions announced Monday appear to be relatively limited in scope, given the small volume of trade the United States does with Hong Kong. Hong Kong represented just 2.2 percent of American exports in 2018, with defense and high-technology items making up a sliver of that.

But the export limitations announced Monday could have larger implications for some multinational companies, including some semiconductor firms, who now will be barred from sending products or sharing certain high-tech information with the territory. Some multinational companies that chose Hong Kong as a base for doing business with China have begun considering moves to other locations, including Singapore.

The Trump administration has said it would end an extradition treaty with Hong Kong and curtail some other commercial relations as a result of China’s new security law. It said it would cancel visas for thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers with ties to the Chinese military, and threatened to place sanctions on Chinese government officials and financial institutions involved in promulgating the security law.

But the Trump administration has stopped short of broader financial sanctions, which could be crippling for Chinese companies and the U.S.-China economic relationship, including President Trump’s Phase 1 trade deal.

In a statement, Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, said that China’s new security law undermined the territory’s autonomy and increased the risk that delicate American technology would be diverted to China’s military or security forces.

Mr. Ross said that further actions to eliminate Hong Kong’s differential treatment were “also being evaluated.”

“We urge Beijing to immediately reverse course and fulfill the promises it has made to the people of Hong Kong and the world,” he added.

“It gives us no pleasure to take this action,” Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said in a separate statement. “But given Beijing now treats Hong Kong as ‘One Country, One System,’ so must we.”

Halting American high-tech exports to Hong Kong is not a new idea, as some American security experts have warned for years that China may be using purchases through Hong Kong to obtain products of military value that are prohibited for sale directly to mainland China. But Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary of commerce and economic development, said in an interview in his office in Hong Kong last year that the city has very tight controls on any re-export of high-tech gear that is subject to export controls by the United States or any other country.

Mr. Yau said at the time that the Hong Kong government was strongly opposed to any American move to apply export controls to Hong Kong, saying that Hong Kong retains a separate system in many ways from the mainland and has a history of close cooperation with the United States.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.

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The Biggest Obstacle to China Policy: President Trump

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WASHINGTON — As national security officials and some trade advisers in the Trump administration tried crafting get-tough-on-China policies to address what they viewed as America’s greatest foreign policy challenge, they ran into opposition from an unexpected quarter.

President Trump himself was undermining their work.

That has been the underlying tension of the last three and a half years, laid out in blunt language in the new memoir by John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser. The book supports what administration officials have said in interviews and private discussions since 2017, and what, in many ways, had been out in the open in Mr. Trump’s fawning statements about China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, many made on Twitter.

Taken together, the accounts reveal that there has been no coherent China policy, despite efforts early in the administration by senior aides to frame foreign policy around what they labeled “great power competition,” outlined in their own national security strategy document.

Administration players on China have been divided by factional feuding and irreconcilable policy goals, with security hawks and religious freedom crusaders butting heads with Wall Street advocates and free traders.

Overseeing it all has been a president whose main aim with China has been to secure a trade deal — using overt pleas to Chinese leaders — that would help him get re-elected, according to the accounts.

Mr. Trump, who has shown little interest in human rights and has an affinity for dictators, had no qualms about negotiating openly on those terms with Mr. Xi and ignoring other issues. He even told Mr. Xi repeatedly to continue building internment camps that Chinese officials have used to detain more than one million Muslims — “which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do,” Mr. Bolton wrote.

Although Mr. Trump is known to be a transactional president, Mr. Bolton’s unsparing account reveals transgressions that not only break norms, but also could increase the risks to U.S. national security: Mr. Trump intervening to end sanctions against a Chinese technology company as a favor to Mr. Xi; offering to end a Justice Department case against a Huawei executive in exchange for trade concessions; and “pleading with Xi to ensure” China would make American farm product purchases to help Mr. Trump win re-election, as Mr. Bolton put it.

“Make sure I win,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Xi, according to unredacted pages seen by Vanity Fair.

Throughout the winter and the spring, as the new coronavirus spread from its initial outbreak zone in China across the globe, Mr. Trump kept praising Mr. Xi in an effort to preserve a trade deal signed in January. The virus has now infected more than two million Americans and killed about 120,000.

The details in Mr. Bolton’s book provide ample ammunition for Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential candidate, to rebut efforts by the Trump campaign to paint the former vice president as soft on China. And Senate Republicans who are orienting their own re-election efforts around the same message against Democratic challengers will run into similar pitfalls.

“Bolton’s account will be difficult for Republicans to dismiss,” said Susan Shirk, the chair of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego. “It helps explain why the administration has actually accomplished so little in its pressure campaign against China, namely that it was undercut by President Trump himself, who fawned over Xi Jinping in order to get personal political and perhaps commercial favors from the Chinese leader.”

“Chinese leaders have learned how to manipulate autocrats in other countries who are just out for themselves, and they applied these lessons to the way they manipulated President Trump,” she added.

Mr. Trump denounced Mr. Bolton’s book on Thursday, saying on Twitter that it was a “compilation of lies and made up stories, all intended to make me look bad.”

Mr. Bolton resigned last September over major policy clashes with Mr. Trump, though the president has said that he fired Mr. Bolton, a contention he repeated in the tweet: “Just trying to get even for firing him like the sick puppy he is!”

Mr. Trump also asserted a tough tone toward China on Thursday, negating a claim made the previous day by Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, that Washington would not seek to “decouple” the American economy from China’s. “That was a policy option years ago, but I don’t think it’s a policy or reasonable policy option at this point,” Mr. Lighthizer told the House Ways and Means Committee.

In a tweet, though, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Lighthizer was mistaken, and that “the U.S. certainly does maintain a policy option, under various conditions, of a complete decoupling from China.”

Mr. Trump did not define “decoupling,” and economists say a significant separation would be difficult.

Critics of the administration’s actions on China say hawkish officials have overreached or adopted misguided measures — for example, pushing a trade war that has resulted in mainly American companies paying about $55 billion in tariffs and caused suffering among farmers, or starting tit-for-tat punishments against Chinese media organizations that have resulted in the expulsions of American reporters from China.

In a charitable sense, Mr. Trump’s willingness to cut deals with Mr. Xi can be seen as a corrective to that. But Mr. Trump’s approach is rooted only in his concerns about his political future and not in any understanding of foreign policy or American interests, according to Mr. Bolton.

“Trump’s conversations with Xi reflected not only the incoherence in his trade policy but also the confluence in Trump’s mind of his own political interests and U.S. national interests,” Mr. Bolton wrote, according to excerpted text. “Trump commingled the personal and the national not just on trade questions but across the whole field of national security. I am hard-pressed to identify any significant Trump decision during my White House tenure that wasn’t driven by re-election calculations.”

The administration has generally been divided between those who see China as a national security threat and those who see it as a business opportunity. Mr. Bolton was in the former camp, as are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser; and Peter Navarro, a White House trader adviser. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whom Mr. Bolton calls a “panda hugger,” and Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, have advocated moderate policies to preserve commercial ties.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, also has. In December 2018, when Mr. Trump told Mr. Xi and other Chinese officials at a dinner in Buenos Aires that Mr. Kushner would take part in trade negotiations, “all the Chinese perked up and smiled,” Mr. Bolton wrote.

Though Mr. Navarro is aligned ideologically with Mr. Bolton on China, he defended Mr. Trump’s policies in a talk with reporters on Thursday.

“My take on him is it’s Big Lie Bolton, it’s Book Deal Bolton,” Mr. Navarro said. “He is doing it for the money, that is pretty clear, and my view is it’s the Washington swamp’s equivalent of revenge porn.”

Behind the scenes, Mr. Navarro has clashed with administration officials — and with Mr. Mnuchin in particular — over the trade talks.

Mr. Mnuchin said in a statement on Thursday that excerpts from Mr. Bolton’s book that he had read were “full of lies and factual inaccuracies.” Other administration officials said in interviews, and on the condition of anonymity, that the details of the China excerpt that had circulated widely were accurate.

On Thursday night, Mr. Pompeo said in a statement, “It is both sad and dangerous that John Bolton’s final public role is that of a traitor who damaged America by violating his sacred trust with its people.” He added, “President Trump’s America is a force for good in the world.”

Michael Pillsbury, a Hudson Institute scholar who has spoken to Mr. Trump on China, noted that previous administrations have also had internal divisions on how hard to challenge Beijing. “It’s not a Cold War 2.0 relationship,” he said. “It’s more cooperative than that.”

In the chaos, some lawmakers have tried to keep Mr. Trump and his administration focused on national security and human rights.

This month, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, introduced a bill requiring the Defense Department to maintain the ability to repel a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the democratic island. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, co-sponsored bills on Hong Kong and the ethnic Uighur Muslim crisis that Mr. Trump signed into law. On Wednesday, he sent a long letter to McKinsey & Company, the American consulting firm, asking about its work with the Chinese government, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times.

But Mr. Trump has not imposed economic sanctions on senior Chinese officials for human right abuses. Last year, Mr. Trump told Mr. Xi he would not speak up on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in order to revive trade talks. And Mr. Bolton wrote that he heard Mr. Trump say after getting news of a 1.5-million-person rally in Hong Kong, “I don’t want to get involved” and “We have human rights problems, too.”

Mr. Trump said last month that he would punish Beijing for moves to restrict freedoms in Hong Kong, but has not announced specific actions.

Embracing the language of economic populism, Mr. Trump denounced China’s trade practices during his 2016 campaign. But as president, Mr. Trump assumed the role of dealmaker and moved quickly to develop a personal bond with Mr. Xi, hosting him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in April 2017. The two men shared a meal that included what Mr. Trump called “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Trump started a trade war 16 months later, raising tensions. During trade negotiations, the president’s desire to reach a quick deal sometimes undercut advisers like Mr. Lighthizer who wanted to press for deeper changes to China’s economic structure.

This year, the Trump campaign has already spent millions in advertising dollars trying to drum into voters a message that Mr. Trump is tough on China. But Biden aides pointed to polls that show Mr. Trump has struggled to gain traction with that argument. And Mr. Biden has embraced the details of the Bolton book in his messaging.

“If these accounts are true, it’s not only morally repugnant, it’s a violation of Donald Trump’s sacred duty to the American people to protect America’s interests and defend our values,” he said in a statement.

Still, even with all the revelations, it is hard to say which candidate Chinese leaders prefer, said Jude Blanchette, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“A Trump administration brings four more years of intense — and chaotic — pressure on Beijing,” he said, “while a Biden presidency may well be able to rally key allies to constrain China’s more damaging behavior.”

Last month, the Trump White House released a 16-page document chronicling its “competitive approach” toward China, saying that the administration’s policy was intended “to protect United States national interests.” It made no mention of Mr. Trump’s political fortunes.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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U.S. to Expel Chinese Graduate Students With Ties to China’s Military Schools

Westlake Legal Group u-s-to-expel-chinese-graduate-students-with-ties-to-chinas-military-schools U.S. to Expel Chinese Graduate Students With Ties to China’s Military Schools visas United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Rubio, Marco People's Liberation Army (China) National Security Council Foreign Students (in US) Federal Bureau of Investigation Communist Party of China Colleges and Universities Burr, Richard M
Westlake Legal Group 28dc-trump-china-facebookJumbo U.S. to Expel Chinese Graduate Students With Ties to China’s Military Schools visas United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Rubio, Marco People's Liberation Army (China) National Security Council Foreign Students (in US) Federal Bureau of Investigation Communist Party of China Colleges and Universities Burr, Richard M

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers in the United States who have direct ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, according to American officials with knowledge of the discussions.

The plan would be the first designed to bar the access of a category of Chinese students, who, over all, form the single largest foreign student population in the United States.

It portends possible further educational restrictions, and the Chinese government could retaliate by imposing its own visa or educational bans on Americans. The two nations have already engaged in rounds of retribution over policies involving trade, technology and media access, and relations are at their worst point in decades.

American officials are discussing ways to punish China for its passage of a new national security law intended to enable crackdowns in Hong Kong, but the plans to cancel student visas were under consideration before the crisis over the law, which was announced last week by Chinese officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the visa plans with President Trump on Tuesday in a White House meeting.

American universities are expected to push back against the administration’s move. While international educational exchange is prized for its intellectual value, many schools also rely on full tuition payments from foreign students to help cover costs, especially the large group of students from China.

Administrators and teachers have been briefed in recent years by the F.B.I. and the Justice Department on potential national security threats posed by Chinese students, especially ones working in the sciences. But the university employees are wary of a possible new “red scare” that targets students of a specific national background and that could contribute to anti-Asian racism.

Many of them argue that they have effective security protocols in place, and that having Chinese students be exposed to the liberalizing effects of Western institutions outweighs the risks. Moreover, they say, the Chinese students are experts in their subject fields and bolster American research efforts.

Chinese students and researchers say growing scrutiny from the American government and new official limits on visas would create biases against them, including when they apply for jobs or grants.

The visa cancellation could affect at least 3,000 students, according to some official estimates. That is a tiny percentage of the approximately 360,000 Chinese students in the United States. But some of those affected might be working on important research projects.

The move is certain to ignite public debate. Officials acknowledged there was no direct evidence that pointed to wrongdoing by the students who are about to lose their visas. Instead, suspicions by American officials center on the Chinese universities at which the students trained as undergraduates.

“In China, much more of society is government-controlled or government-affiliated,” said Frank Wu, a law professor who is the incoming president of Queens College. “You can’t function there or have partners from there if you aren’t comfortable with how the system is set up.”

“Targeting only some potential professors, scholars, students and visitors from China is a lower level of stereotyping than banning all,” he added. “But it is still selective, based on national origin.”

The State Department and the National Security Council both declined to comment.

American officials who defend the visa cancellation said the ties to the Chinese military at those schools go far deeper than mere campus recruiting. Instead, in many cases, the Chinese government plays a role in selecting which students from the schools with ties to the military can study abroad, one official said. In some cases, students who are allowed to go overseas are expected to collect information as a condition of having their tuition paid, the official said, declining to reveal specific intelligence on the matter.

Officials did not provide the list of affected schools, but the People’s Liberation Army has ties to military institutions and defense research schools, as well as to seven more traditional universities, many of them prestigious colleges in China with well-funded science and technology programs.

The F.B.I. and the Justice Department have long viewed the military-affiliated schools as a particular problem, believing military officials train some of the graduates in basic espionage techniques and compel them to gather and transmit information to Chinese officers.

While some government officials emphasize the intelligence threat posed by students from military-affiliated universities, others see those Chinese citizens as potential recruits for American spy agencies. Preventing the students from coming to the United States may make it more difficult for the agencies to recruit assets inside the Chinese military.

After completing their graduate work, some students land jobs at prominent technology companies in the United States. That has made some current and former American officials wary that the employees could engage in industrial espionage.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who now leads the committee, has sent letters to universities in his state warning about ties to the Chinese government.

Mr. Rubio has been pushing schools to cut relations with China’s Thousand Talents program, which has provided funding for American researchers — including Charles M. Lieber, the chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry and chemical biology department, who was arrested by the F.B.I. in January on charges of concealing his financial relationship with the Chinese government.

Asked about the Trump administration’s move to cancel the visas of some Chinese students studying in the United States, Mr. Rubio said he supported “a targeted approach” to make it more difficult for the Chinese Communist Party to exploit the openness of American schools to advance their own military and intelligence abilities.

“The Chinese government too often entraps its own people into service” to the Communist Party and its objectives “in exchange for an education in the U.S.,” Mr. Rubio said, adding that “higher education institutions in America need to be fully aware of this counterintelligence threat.”

Other Republican lawmakers proposed legislation on Wednesday to bar any Chinese citizen from getting a visa for graduate or postgraduate study in science or technology.

Trump administration officials have discussed restricting Chinese student visas over the past three years, current and former officials said.

In 2018, the State Department began limiting the length of visas to one year, with an option for renewal, for Chinese graduate students working in fields deemed sensitive. An official said targeting graduates of the military-linked schools gathered steam after the F.B.I. announced in January that it was seeking a Boston University student who had hid her affiliation with the People’s Liberation Army when applying for a visa.

F.B.I. officials said the student, Yanqing Ye, had studied at the National University of Defense Technology in China and was commissioned as a lieutenant before enrolling in Boston University’s department of physics, chemistry and biomedical engineering from October 2017 to April 2019.

While in Boston, Lieutenant Ye continued to get assignments from the Chinese military, including “conducting research, assessing United States military websites and sending United States documents and information to China,” according to the F.B.I. wanted poster.

The Justice Department charged Lieutenant Ye, who is believed to be in China, with acting as a foreign agent, visa fraud and false statements.

The vigorous interagency debate over the move to cancel visas has lasted about six months, with science and technology officials generally opposing the action and national security officials supporting it.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank, has researched the Chinese military-affiliated universities, and that has influenced thinking in the American government. A 2018 report called “Picking Flowers, Making Honey” said China was sending students from those universities to Western universities to try to build up its own military technology.

The study suggested that the graduates were targeting the so-called Five Eyes countries that share intelligence: the United States, Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia. In many cases, the report said, students hid their military affiliations while seeking work in fields with defense applications, like hypersonics.

Under the current Chinese government, Beijing has aggressively tried to combine military and civilian work on important technology, said American officials and outside researchers. That often includes tapping the expertise of civilian companies and universities.

“To some degree, U.S. concerns are driven by the assessment that Chinese companies and universities seem unlikely to refuse outright or could be compelled to work with the military, whereas their American counterparts often appear more resistant to working on military research,” Elsa B. Kania, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, wrote in a report last August.

“It is also striking at the same time that some of China’s leading technology companies appear to be less directly engaged in supporting defense initiatives than might be expected relative to their American counterparts,” she added.

United States officials said the fusion policy also entailed sending military-trained students to American universities to try to gain access to technological know-how that would be valuable to China and its defense industry.

The Chinese military has strong ties to a number of schools with an overt military bent, according to the Australian think tank.

Less obvious to the casual observer are the more traditional universities with longstanding ties to the military.

According to the policy institute and American officials, those are Northwestern Polytechnical University, Harbin Engineering University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology, Beihang University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Nanjing University of Science and Technology.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.

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Hong Kong Has Lost Autonomy, Pompeo Says, Opening Door to U.S. Action

Mr. Pompeo’s action came just hours before China was expected to pass a national security law that would allow Chinese security agencies to take broad actions limiting the liberties of Hong Kong residents, many of whom have protested the proposed law and clashed with police officers.

The United States and China appear to be on a collision course over the future of Hong Kong, a center of global capitalism and symbol of resistance to the Chinese Communist Party. Relations between the two nations are at their worst in decades, and disputes have flared over trade, national security and the origins of the coronavirus.

President Trump’s foreign policy aides are discussing actions that would be among the harshest punishments taken against China over the past three years. The actions could have far-reaching consequences for global commerce and transform how Chinese and foreign companies operate, as well as upend the lives of many of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents, who have been under enormous pressure from years of political crackdowns.

Hong Kong has been a financial and commercial hub since late last century. China relies on the bustling city of ports and skyscrapers on the edge of the South China Sea for transactions with other countries. Many Chinese and foreign firms use Hong Kong as an international or regional base, and members of elite Communist Party families or executives with ties to them do business and own property there. Many companies also raise capital by listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Mr. Pompeo has said the security law would be a “death knell” for Hong Kong, which has had liberties under a semiautonomous system of governance that do not exist in mainland China, including freedoms of speech, the press and assembly, as well as an independent judiciary.

In recent days, protesters in Hong Kong have taken to the streets to voice outrage at the proposed law, only to be beaten back by police officers clad in riot gear and firing tear gas.

American diplomats said they called on Wednesday for a virtual meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss Hong Kong, but China blocked the move.

If it proceeds with punishments, the Trump administration could impose the same tariffs on exports from Hong Kong that it puts on goods from mainland China, said officials with knowledge of the discussions. Other trade restrictions that apply to China, including bans or limits on what American companies can sell to Chinese companies because of national security or human rights concerns, may be imposed on Hong Kong as well.

Some of Mr. Trump’s advisers are discussing visa bans on Chinese officials who enact the law.

“I certified to Congress today that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before July 1997,” Mr. Pompeo said Wednesday. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.”

“Hong Kong and its dynamic, enterprising and free people have flourished for decades as a bastion of liberty, and this decision gives me no pleasure,” he added. “But sound policymaking requires a recognition of reality. While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself.”

Mr. Pompeo is the most vocal of a group of national security officials who advocate tough policies on China. Some of Mr. Trump’s top economic advisers prefer a more conciliatory approach to dealing with China, the world’s second-largest economy, and will likely urge caution. American corporate executives have said the administration should act with care.

Mr. Trump has rarely made any strong comments on the situation in Hong Kong, and he has praised Xi Jinping, the president of China, throughout his time in office, even insisting that they have a strong friendship. Mr. Trump has also been eager to promote a trade agreement he signed with China in January as an economic win for the United States. He wants to avoid jeopardizing that deal, even though Beijing is not meeting purchasing quotas mandated by it.

The president is keen to boost the U.S. economy, which has fallen into recession during the pandemic, ahead of the November presidential election.

But on Tuesday, when asked by reporters about China’s proposed national security law, Mr. Trump said he planned to act this week. “I think you’ll find it very interesting,” he said, adding that his response would come “very powerfully.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_172871856_1c5f4d61-6dad-417b-859d-87923dc3f8ab-articleLarge Hong Kong Has Lost Autonomy, Pompeo Says, Opening Door to U.S. Action United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Mike Law and Legislation International Trade and World Market Hong Kong Protests (2019) Hong Kong China
Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

The certification by the State Department is a recommendation on policy and does not itself catalyze actions immediately. American officials, including Mr. Trump, will now weigh what steps to take.

The United States is likely to choose specific areas in which to break off cooperation first with Hong Kong, including trade and law enforcement.

The president would need to issue an executive order to end the special relationship entirely, according to people familiar with the discussions. One possibility is for the United States to take piecemeal action over the next year before ending the special status if China does not change course, they said.

“We’re not hopeful that Beijing will reverse itself, but that is an option,” David R. Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, said of the Chinese government’s push on the national security law.

Britain handed Hong Kong to China in 1997, after the two nations reached an agreement on the colony 13 years earlier. In 1992, the United States passed a law that said the American government would treat a Beijing-ruled Hong Kong under the same conditions it had applied to the British colony.

In November, after months of pro-democracy protests and crackdowns by the police in Hong Kong, Mr. Trump signed into law a bipartisan bill requiring the State Department to provide an annual certification to Congress to help determine whether to continue the special relationship with Hong Kong.

That certification depends on a judgment by department officials of whether China was ceding enough autonomy to Hong Kong.

Susan Shirk, a former State Department official now at the University of California, San Diego, said that given the mandate from Congress, Mr. Pompeo had no choice on his assessment “once Beijing blatantly overruled the Hong Kong legislature with a new law that integrates Hong Kong” into the Chinese security state.

“Of course, the big losers will be the people of Hong Kong, not the politicians in Beijing or Washington who produced this predicament,” she added.

Mr. Pompeo’s announcement is certain to draw condemnation from Beijing, where the government is holding its annual legislative session this week. Officials announced details of the proposed law Friday, at the start of the session.

“If anyone insists on harming China’s interests, China is determined to take all necessary countermeasures,” Zhao Lijian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a news conference earlier Wednesday in Beijing. “The national security law for Hong Kong is purely China’s internal affair that allows no foreign interference.”

Some American business executives are advising the Trump administration to tread carefully on changing the relationship with Hong Kong.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents American companies in Hong Kong, said in a statement Tuesday that it was “deeply concerned” about the proposed national security law. It asked the Chinese government to “peacefully de-escalate” the situation and preserve the semi-autonomy of the “one country, two systems” framework that, under the 1984 treaty between Beijing and London, is supposed to exist until 2047.

“We likewise urge the Trump administration to continue to prioritize the maintenance of a positive and constructive relationship between the United States and Hong Kong,” the group said.

It added that “far-reaching changes” to Hong Kong’s status “in economic and trade matters would have serious implications for Hong Kong and for U.S. business, particularly those with business operations located there who exercise a positive influence in favor of Hong Kong’s core values.”

Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University, said the Trump administration had flexibility on which options to exercise.

“I would expect the president would act on some agreements, but not on others,” Mr. Ku said. For example, he noted, the administration might terminate the extradition treaty with Hong Kong, since the national security law makes fair adjudication less credible, or it could put Hong Kong under the same controls that limit American technology exports to China.

“But he might leave the visa waiver treatment that Hong Kong residents currently receive when coming to the U.S. alone for now,” he said.

Mark Williams, the chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, said Mr. Trump’s tariffs on imports from mainland China — which are paid by American companies — would not automatically extend to Hong Kong despite the new State Department assessment. But the cumulative effect of various actions would erode Hong Kong’s status as an international business center, Mr. Williams wrote in a note to clients.

“The irony is that in punishing Hong Kong, we wind up martyring it rather than saving it,” said Daniel Russel, an assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific in the Obama administration. As for diplomacy between Washington and Beijing, he said: “The brake pads in the relationship have worn very, very thin. And it’s hard to see this confrontation going anywhere except escalation.”

In Congress, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a sponsor of the bill on Hong Kong that passed last fall, cheered Mr. Pompeo’s announcement.

“For years, the Chinese government and Communist Party have walked back on its commitment to ensure autonomy and freedom for Hong Kong,” Mr. Rubio said. “We cannot let Beijing profit from breaking the Sino-British Joint Declaration and trying to crush the spirit of Hong Kong’s people.”

On another front, the State Department plans to expand the list of Chinese state-run news organizations operating in the United States on which it has imposed new restrictions, including foreign employee quotas, American officials said. And the agency is watching to see if China will retaliate against American journalists in Hong Kong for the administration’s most recent round of visa restrictions against Chinese journalists. In March, China expelled American journalists from three news organizations, including The New York Times.

Michael Crowley and Ana Swanson contributed reporting from Washington, and Keith Bradsher from Beijing.

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As Questions Grow Over His Activities, Pompeo Defends Firing of Watchdog

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-pompeo-copy-facebookJumbo-v2 As Questions Grow Over His Activities, Pompeo Defends Firing of Watchdog Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Susan Pompeo, Mike Menendez, Robert Linick, Steve A Inspectors General Ethics and Official Misconduct

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defiantly defended the firing of an inspector general who had investigated his conduct, and he issued a broadside against a Democratic senator to counter criticism that he had used diplomatic resources for his personal advantage.

In seething comments to reporters, Mr. Pompeo said he wished he had recommended earlier that President Trump dismiss the State Department’s inspector general, Steve A. Linick. He called it “patently false” that his request sought to retaliate for inquiries into his potential misuse of government resources or the Trump administration’s decision to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over Congress’s objections.

But he refused to explain why he wanted Mr. Linick fired, as Mr. Trump ordered on Friday night. Mr. Linick has been locked out of his office, despite a law mandating a 30-day waiting period for Congress to raise objections.

The investigations have fueled concerns that Mr. Pompeo has used the State Department to further his political ambitions, including a possible future presidential campaign. Over the last two years, Mr. Pompeo has privately met with political donors and supporters while on official State Department travel, and used speeches and interviews in Iowa, New Hampshire and other important election states to advance foreign policy.

Mr. Pompeo dismissed allegations of improper acts during his leadership, and he spoke of separate investigations by the inspector general in one breath in an effort to ridicule them.

“I’ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner,” he said in response to journalists’ questions at the State Department. “It’s all just crazy. It’s all crazy stuff.”

He lashed out against Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has opened an inquiry into Mr. Linick’s firing after learning of the inspector general’s investigations into whether Mr. Pompeo or his wife, Susan, used State Department resources for their political or personal gain.

“I don’t get my ethics guidance from a man who was criminally prosecuted,” Mr. Pompeo said, referring to 2015 federal bribery charges that were brought, but led to no conviction, against Mr. Menendez.

“The facts speak for themselves,” Mr. Menendez said in a response Wednesday. “Secretary Pompeo now faces an investigation into both this improper firing and into his attempt to cover up his inappropriate and possibly illegal actions.”

Mr. Menendez said the attack against congressional oversight was not surprising. “The fact that Secretary Pompeo is now trying diversion tactics by attempting to smear me is as predictable as it is shameful,” he said.

Mr. Trump had previously fired or demoted three other inspectors general this spring, and the dismissal of Mr. Linick led Democrats in the House and Senate to begin an inquiry into the ouster.

On Tuesday morning, Mr. Menendez reached out to Stephen E. Biegun, the deputy secretary of state, for details on a series of lavish dinners at the State Department that the Pompeos have hosted for hundreds of guests, including American business leaders and conservative political officials. Mr. Menendez had been aware for months of the dinners and sent a private letter to Mr. Biegun demanding to know whether they were legal, how they were funded and who had attended.

The Foreign Affairs Manual, which outlines State Department regulations, prohibits the “use, or allowing use, of U.S. government funds, property or other resources for unofficial proposes or for private benefit.”

Congressional officials have said Mr. Linick, who has served as the State Department inspector general since 2013, was examining several areas of policy and potential misuse of government resources that had raised concerns.

In one, officials said, Mr. Linick’s office had opened an investigation into whether the Pompeo family had assigned a State Department employee to work on issues unrelated to diplomatic business. Part of that inquiry has examined whether government aides were told to do personal chores, including picking up dry cleaning and walking the family dog, Sherman.

A focus of that inquiry is the role of Toni Porter, a longtime aide to Mr. Pompeo, who is on the State Department payroll as a senior adviser and who helped set up domestic travel and events inside the United States for Mr. Pompeo and his wife.

Ms. Porter worked for Mr. Pompeo when he was a Republican congressman from Kansas, heading his district office in Wichita. She also worked for a year as a lobbyist and program manager at the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce, which had a relationship with Mr. Pompeo, as a congressman, that “was very important to us,” said Gary Plummer, its president and chief executive.

In 2017, Mr. Pompeo hired Ms. Porter to run the C.I.A. protocol office when he was the spy agency’s director. While there, she also helped Mrs. Pompeo’s outreach efforts to families of C.I.A. officers overseas. Ms. Porter followed the couple to the State Department when Mr. Pompeo became the top American diplomat in 2018.

Ms. Porter declined to comment on the investigations. People familiar with her duties said she helped Mrs. Pompeo, an agency volunteer, with a wide range of tasks, including organizing the private “Madison Dinners” in a historic room at the State Department.

A report published late Tuesday by NBC outlined details of the taxpayer-funded dinners, citing guest lists and other documents to demonstrate the extent that government resources were used. The report found that contact information for the dinner guests — including known political donors and potential supporters of any future campaign by Mr. Pompeo for higher office — were sent to Mrs. Pompeo’s personal email address.

A State Department spokeswoman defended the dinners as an opportunity for the guests — nearly 500 invitees from the corporate, political and diplomatic communities at about two dozen events since 2018 — to discuss foreign policy.

A person who attended one of the dinners last year called it “classic soft diplomacy,” describing it as geared toward offering an informal take on American political and business issues with a foreign dignitary as the featured guest. Other attendees included another Trump cabinet official, the chief executive of an American business and some conservative journalists and political operatives, the person said.

The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee said in a statement Wednesday that “reports that Secretary Pompeo misused taxpayer dollars for lavish entertainment are very concerning, and these serious questions are compounded by Secretary Pompeo’s penchant for secrecy.”

Secretaries of state have used the diplomatic reception rooms atop the State Department, home to Thomas Jefferson’s desk and featuring an outdoor patio with a commanding view of Washington, to seek advice and to impress potential supporters. Condoleezza Rice held dinners there on promoting democracy, and John Kerry on the future of the Middle East.

But Mr. Pompeo finds himself in the position Hillary Clinton was a decade ago: every event scrutinized for the presence of potential donors to a future presidential campaign, and a suspicion that the sessions were about more than just foreign policy.

President Bill Clinton used overnight stays in the White House Lincoln Bedroom as a way to reward major donors, and Vice President Mike Pence courted influential donors, corporate executives and conservative political leaders at a string of private dinners at his official residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington. President Barack Obama also entertained donors at the White House, as did former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he lived at the Naval Observatory residence.

When such efforts are exposed, they inevitably raise questions about the use of taxpayer-funded resources for the political or personal benefit of the politician. The president and vice president are broadly exempt from laws prohibiting the use of government resources for political purposes, and cabinet secretaries are generally allowed to participate in some political activities while on the clock, as long as they are not funded by tax dollars.

Questions over the possible misuse of taxpayer funds by Mr. Pompeo, including on frequent trips aboard department aircraft to his adopted home state, Kansas, have dogged the secretary since he began his current job.

On Monday, the person appointed by Mr. Trump as acting inspector general, Stephen J. Akard, an ally of Mr. Pence’s, came into the inspector general’s office to start his new job, even though the 30-day review period for Congress to examine Mr. Linick’s firing is still in effect, a congressional aide said. Mr. Akard is not quitting his job as head of the department’s foreign missions office, the aide said, and doing both jobs is an obvious conflict of interest.

David E. Sanger, Kenneth P. Vogel and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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State Dept. Investigator Fired by Trump Had Examined Weapons Sales to Saudis and Emiratis

WASHINGTON — The State Department inspector general fired by President Trump on Friday was in the final stages of an investigation into whether the administration had unlawfully declared an “emergency” last year to allow the resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their air war in Yemen.

Employees from the office of the inspector general, Steve A. Linick, presented preliminary findings to senior State Department officials in early March, before the coronavirus forced lockdowns across the United States. But it was not clear whether that investigation, or others that Mr. Linick had underway, led to his dismissal.

Mr. Trump, speaking about the latest in his series of firings of inspectors general around the government, said on Monday of Mr. Linick: “I don’t know him. Never heard of him. But I was asked by the State Department, by Mike” to terminate Mr. Linick. He apparently was referring to a recommendation he received from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“I have the absolute right as president to terminate,” Mr. Trump added. “I said, ‘Who appointed him?’ and they say, ‘President Obama.’ I said, ‘Look I’ll terminate him.’”

Video

transcript

‘Never Heard of Him,’ Trump Says of Inspector General He Fired

President Trump said he didn’t know why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked him to terminate the official, who was investigating the administration.

“So, I don’t know him. Never heard of him, but they asked me to terminate him. I have the absolute right as president to terminate. I said, ‘Who appointed him?’ And they said, ‘President Obama.’ I said, ‘Look, I’ll terminate him.’ I don’t know what’s going on other than that. But you’d have to ask Mike Pompeo. But they did ask me to do it, and I did it. I have the right to terminate the inspector generals. Now, I don’t know anything about the investigation. But you’re just telling me about walking a dog, and what’d you say, doing dishes?” “Saudi arms deals, sir. Sales to Saudi Arabia over certain arms of concern over their use in the Yemeni crisis. So the question is whether Secretary Pompeo tried to subvert the deal with actions that he may have taken.” “I don’t think so. I mean, I think that when somebody pays us a fortune for, you know, arms, we should get the deal done. I will tell you that. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Westlake Legal Group 18vid-trump-pompeo-inspector-general1-videoSixteenByNine3000 State Dept. Investigator Fired by Trump Had Examined Weapons Sales to Saudis and Emiratis Yemen United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United Arab Emirates Trump, Donald J State Department Saudi Arabia Raytheon Company Pompeo, Mike Linick, Steve A Iran Inspectors General House Committee on Foreign Affairs Foreign Aid Engel, Eliot L Defense Contracts Appointments and Executive Changes
President Trump said he didn’t know why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had asked him to terminate the official, who was investigating the administration.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The investigation into how Mr. Pompeo moved to end a congressional hold on arms sales to the Saudis was prompted in part by demands from the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, who said on Monday that the subsequent investigation might have been “another reason” for the firing of Mr. Linick. The White House announced the firing Friday night under a provision that requires 30 days’ notice to Congress before removing an inspector general.

Democratic leaders in Congress and several Republican lawmakers said on Monday that Mr. Trump had not given sufficient justification for the firing and that they wanted answers during the 30-day review period.

The inspector general’s office conducts multiple, simultaneous investigations into the activities of the State Department and its officials.

“We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed,” Mr. Engel said of the arms sale inquiry.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Mr. Pompeo said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post that he had recommended to Mr. Trump that Mr. Linick be fired because Mr. Linick was “undermining” the department’s mission. Mr. Pompeo did not give details.

He also said his recommendation to fire Mr. Linick could not have been an act of retaliation to end an investigation because he had not been briefed on any inquiries.

However, top department officials had clearly received briefings from Mr. Linick’s office and been asked to comply with investigations.

Mr. Linick is widely seen as competent, though sometimes reluctant to wade into the most politically charged issues.

Nonetheless, he issued a harsh report in 2016 on the use of a private email server by Hillary Clinton, who served as Mr. Obama’s secretary of state, and played a minor role in the impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump last fall. He issued two reports last year that criticized political appointees at the State Department, some of whom work closely with Mr. Pompeo.

Mr. Trump has appointed Ambassador Stephen J. Akard, the director of the Office of Foreign Missions, for the role of acting inspector general. Mr. Akard, an associate of Vice President Mike Pence, failed to get congressional support for a top State Department job under Mr. Pompeo’s predecessor but was eventually confirmed for the lesser post at the foreign missions office.

The decision to resume lethal aid to the Saudis and Emiratis was a major initiative undertaken by Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump, who often discussed the importance of the weapons sales with officers of Raytheon, the Massachusetts-based defense contractor that lobbied heavily to get a 2017 suspension of sales lifted. Congress had imposed the suspension because of a political rift among Gulf Arab nations driven by the Saudis and because of discoveries that bomb fragments traced to Raytheon by investigators were linked to a series of Saudi bombings that killed civilians, including children.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_172054212_974f6070-527a-4661-b3b2-1cc78fa5f5d0-articleLarge State Dept. Investigator Fired by Trump Had Examined Weapons Sales to Saudis and Emiratis Yemen United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United Arab Emirates Trump, Donald J State Department Saudi Arabia Raytheon Company Pompeo, Mike Linick, Steve A Iran Inspectors General House Committee on Foreign Affairs Foreign Aid Engel, Eliot L Defense Contracts Appointments and Executive Changes
Credit…Pool photo by Andrew Harnik

Mr. Trump had pushed to resume the sales in 2018, justifying it as a jobs issue.

“I want Boeing and I want Lockheed and I want Raytheon to take those orders and to hire lots of people to make that incredible equipment,” he said.

But the effort to restart the sales was delayed by the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, Washington Post columnist and American resident. His death, and the suspected role of the Saudi leadership in ordering the killing, led to calls for a full end to military aid to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Pompeo broke the logjam a year ago, declaring an “emergency” over Iran’s activities in the Middle East that enabled him to sidestep the congressional ban and approve restarting the sales. That started the resumption of more normal exchanges with the Saudi government, as the Trump administration tried to move past Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi Arabia and Iran are archrivals in the region.

In June, after congressional hearings with State Department officials into the rationale for declaring an emergency over Iran, Mr. Engel sent a letter to Mr. Linick asking him to open an investigation. Mr. Engel’s office then tracked the investigation sporadically once it had begun, a Democratic aide said. The office learned by early spring that Mr. Linick had conveyed preliminary findings to the State Department.

This past weekend, after Mr. Trump notified Congress of the firing of Mr. Linick, Mr. Engel’s office learned more details of the circumstances around the arms sale investigation, leading Mr. Engel to ask whether the inquiry might have contributed to the sudden move against Mr. Linick by Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump.

The separate inquiry into the possible misuse of a political appointee to run personal errands was still a potential factor, and there might be other motivations for the firing that remain unknown, an aide said.

Aaron David Miller, a former American official on Middle East policy who is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that a year ago, “there was no credible emergency nor any real urgency for invoking an Iran emergency declaration for lethal arms sales to the Saudis other than the administration’s desire to please Saudi Arabia.”

He added that American officials “don’t want anyone digging around in the triangular relationship between the administration, Raytheon and Saudi because somebody crossed the line.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo were aware of the sensitivities around trying to bypass the congressional hold on the arms sales. Mr. Pompeo made the announcement of the “emergency” declaration over Iran on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend last year, a common move by government officials to avoid immediate questions from Congress and extensive news coverage. The administration also announced it was sending 1,500 more troops to the Middle East.

The move was aimed at allowing American companies to sell $8.1 billion worth of munitions in 22 pending transfers mainly to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. At the time, a person briefed on the decision said, a part of the arrangement would involve a transfer of munitions from the U.A.E. to Jordan that had nothing to do with Iran.

Mr. Pompeo had pushed aggressively for the sales, over the objections of career Foreign Service officers and lawmakers.

After the announcement of the “emergency” on May 24, lawmakers pointedly asked why, if there was such a crisis, Mr. Pompeo and Patrick Shanahan, then the acting defense secretary, had not briefed them on the situation and on the need to push through arms sales in a closed-door discussion on Iran just three days earlier.

In June, lawmakers called top State Department officials to testify about the decision. Some of their questions focused on the roles played by Charles Faulkner, a former Raytheon lobbyist who worked in the State Department’s legislative affairs bureau, and Marik String, a former deputy assistant secretary in the political-military affairs bureau who became a top department legal adviser in late May.

In a contentious hearing on June 12, lawmakers pressed R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state in the political-military affairs bureau, on the move. Mr. Cooper argued that a continued hold on the sales would cede commercial advantages to Russia and China. One lawmaker asked whether Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a Middle East adviser with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, had weighed in on the decision. Mr. Cooper demurred at first, then said no.

Michael LaForgia contributed reporting.

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Inspector General’s Firing Puts Pompeo’s Use of Taxpayer Funds Under Scrutiny

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo swatted away questions about his use of government resources again and again last year.

In January, news reports cited unnamed diplomats complaining about his wife, Susan, traveling with him across the Middle East during a partial government shutdown.

In the summer, members of Congress began examining a whistle-blower complaint accusing Mr. Pompeo of asking diplomatic security agents to run errands like picking up restaurant takeout meals and retrieving the family dog, Sherman, from a groomer.

And in October, a Democratic senator called for a special counsel to investigate his use of State Department aircraft and funds for frequent visits to Kansas, where he was reported to be considering a Senate run.

In each case, Mr. Pompeo or other department officials denied wrongdoing, and the secretary moved on unscathed. But his record is now coming under fresh scrutiny after President Trump told Congress on Friday night that he was firing the State Department inspector general — at Mr. Pompeo’s private urging, a White House official said.

The inspector general, Steve A. Linick, who leads hundreds of employees in investigating fraud and waste at the State Department, had begun an inquiry into Mr. Pompeo’s possible misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and his wife, according to Democratic aides. That included walking the dog, picking up dry-cleaning and making restaurant reservations, one said — an echo of the whistle-blower complaint from last year.

The details of Mr. Linick’s investigation are not clear, and it may be unrelated to the previous allegations. But Democrats and other critics of Mr. Pompeo say the cloud of accusations shows a pattern of abuse of taxpayer money — one that may mean lawmakers will be less willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt as congressional Democrats begin an investigation into Mr. Linick’s dismissal.

The investigation is aimed at determining whether the act was one of illegal retaliation intended to shield Mr. Pompeo from accountability — which “would undermine the foundation of our democratic institutions,” Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York and Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, leading Democrats on foreign policy committees, said in a joint statement.

Mr. Engel stressed on Sunday that Mr. Pompeo must turn over all requested records, and said, “What I’ve learned about Inspector General Stephen Linick’s removal is deeply troubling.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_162011826_8a8c5901-a331-4ea2-a0f3-bb74e95b9501-articleLarge Inspector General’s Firing Puts Pompeo’s Use of Taxpayer Funds Under Scrutiny United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J State Department Pompeo, Mike Linick, Steve A House of Representatives
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Linick is the fourth inspector general to fall in a purge this spring by Mr. Trump of officials he has deemed insufficiently loyal, but the dismissal is the first to prompt a formal inquiry in Congress, and it has also drawn criticism from a few Republicans.

“The president has the right to fire any federal employee,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But the fact is, if it looks like it is in retaliation for something that the I.G., the inspector general, is doing, that could be unlawful.”

She called the move “unsavory” — “when you take out someone who is there to stop waste, fraud, abuse or other violations of the law that they believe to be happening.”

Aides to Mr. Pompeo did not reply to repeated requests for comment. The White House did not respond to questions about whether it knew of Mr. Linick’s investigation into Mr. Pompeo when it moved to dismiss him.

Mr. Linick’s office has not commented on that inquiry or on Mr. Trump’s announcement, which started a 30-day clock on the inspector general’s departure. Employees under Mr. Linick generally view him as competent and nonpartisan. Mr. Linick began his current job in 2013, and he held senior posts in the Justice Department starting in the administration of President George W. Bush.

In May 2016, Mr. Linick issued a report sharply criticizing Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, for her use of a private email server, and last fall he played a minor role during the impeachment hearings against Mr. Trump.

A few Republican senators, notably Mitt Romney and Charles E. Grassley, have expressed varying degrees of disapproval of Mr. Trump’s move. But on Sunday, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said: “I understand it. I don’t disagree with it.”

He told CNN that he had spoken with White House and State Department officials about the matter. “I’m not crying big crocodile tears over this termination, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Since Mr. Pompeo took up his current post in April 2018, and for more than one year before that as the C.I.A. director, he has been peerless in his navigation of Mr. Trump’s inner world of loyal advisers and domestic politics around foreign policy. While sticking close to Mr. Trump, he has weathered the impeachment process involving Ukraine, questions over the decision to kill a top Iranian general and the fraught diplomacy between the president and Kim Jong-un, the unpredictable leader of North Korea.

But the maelstrom of questions that began over the weekend could present a formidable challenge to Mr. Pompeo’s political instincts and career ambitions. People close to him say he is thinking of running for president in 2024. And more immediately, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, has repeatedly urged him to run for an open Senate seat in Kansas — an important race given that the Republicans are at risk of losing control of the Senate in the November elections.

Mr. Pompeo knows the potential effect of a congressional investigation on a politician’s career: As a Republican congressman, he helped lead the charge against Mrs. Clinton, then the secretary of state, over the deaths of four Americans at a mission in Benghazi, Libya, an issue that hounded her during the 2016 presidential campaign.

For Mr. Pompeo, the spotlight now falls on much more personal matters, including the role of his wife. Other secretaries of state have occasionally traveled with spouses, but some officials in the State Department say Mrs. Pompeo, a former bank executive, has played an unusually active role in running meetings and accompanying her husband on official business.

“She has this quasi-official role, where my friends are called to meetings she is leading at the department,” said Brett Bruen, a former career diplomat and director of global engagement on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “They know that’s not supposed to happen, because she isn’t in their chain of command. But what can they do?”

Credit…Pool photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

Mrs. Pompeo has accompanied Mr. Pompeo on several long trips overseas. In January 2019, she went with him on an eight-day journey across the Middle East — which raised questions among some officials because most State Department employees, including those supporting the trip, were working without pay during a partial government shutdown. Mrs. Pompeo has also flown with her husband on multinight trips to Switzerland and Italy, which included a visit to the secretary’s ancestral home region of Abruzzo.

Mrs. Pompeo, who is not paid by the State Department, has met with embassy families and local figures on some of the trips, and Mr. Pompeo has called her a “force multiplier.”

Mrs. Pompeo also played an unusually prominent volunteer role at the C.I.A. when Mr. Pompeo was the director there; she traveled with her husband, used an office space in C.I.A. headquarters and asked employees to assist her — actions that an agency spokesman defended at the time. Their son used a C.I.A. shooting range recreationally, according to CNN.

Mr. Pompeo’s frequent trips to Kansas last year also drew intense scrutiny. He went four times, three on the auspices of official business and flying in and out on State Department aircraft. To many, the trips appeared to be part of a shadow Senate campaign for 2020 and had little to do with foreign policy, despite Mr. Pompeo’s denials and his refusal so far to agree to run for the seat.

On the last trip, in October, Mr. Pompeo took part in a student event with Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter. And he discussed the Senate race with Charles Koch, the billionaire who is a longtime supporter of Mr. Pompeo, and Dave Robertson, the president and chief operating officer of Koch Industries, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Kansas City Star ran a blistering editorial denouncing Mr. Pompeo’s frequent trips to his adopted home state, telling him he should quit and run for Senate or “by all means focus on U.S. diplomacy — remember diplomacy? — and stop hanging out here every chance he gets.”

Four days later, Mr. Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel asking it to investigate Mr. Pompeo for potential violations of the Hatch Act, which bars federal employees from using their official positions to engage in partisan political activities.

Separately, Democratic lawmakers on a House committee last year began looking at a whistle-blower complaint that Mr. Pompeo, his wife and adult son were asking diplomatic security agents to run personal errands, including picking up Chinese food and the family dog from a groomer. The whistle-blower said agents had complained they were “UberEats with guns,” according to CNN, which first reported on the accusations.

Lon Fairchild, the agent in charge of the Diplomatic Security Service, told CNN that he had seen no wrongdoing. The Democratic lawmakers did not open a formal inquiry.

More broadly, Mr. Pompeo has wrestled with managing the State Department, though he was initially hailed by many employees as a welcome change from Rex W. Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s first secretary of state, who was perceived as aloof and dismissive.

Last fall, current and former State Department officials criticized Mr. Pompeo for not vocally defending diplomats who were testifying in the impeachment inquiry and coming under attack from Mr. Trump, and for his own role in the earlier ouster of Marie L. Yovanovitch, a respected career diplomat, from the ambassadorship to Ukraine.

Since the winter, Mr. Pompeo has also found himself on unsteady ground on policy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Usually outspoken on policy matters, he seemed to play a more subdued role early in the crisis. Then he chose to pull back from diplomacy with China, where the outbreak began, and relentlessly criticized the Chinese Communist Party for its actions. He pushed spy agencies to look for evidence to support an unsubstantiated theory that the outbreak began in a virology laboratory in the city of Wuhan, and later said there was “enormous” and “significant” evidence behind the theory even when many scientists and intelligence analysts argued otherwise.

On Sunday, Mr. Pompeo warned China in a statement that he was aware “the Chinese government has threatened to interfere with the work of American journalists in Hong Kong,” which has semi-autonomy. He did not give details, but said that “these journalists are members of a free press, not propaganda cadres, and their valuable reporting informs Chinese citizens and the world.”

David E. Sanger and Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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