An NBC News investigation into so-called “Madison Dinners” held by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has revealed that the dinners — which have themselves raised questions — were likely coordinated by a “political appointee” named Toni Porter. Porter, according to three sources who spoke to NBC anonymously, is the same appointee said to have “carr[ied] out personal errands like walking” Pompeo’s dog.
The errands were being investigated by Steve Linick, the outgoing State Department Inspector General whose termination President Donald Trump announced suddenly on Friday. It is unclear whether the “Madison Dinners” were also under investigation by Linick. However, “two administration officials told NBC News that Linick made some type of inquiry” about the dinners “to the protocol office last week, before he was fired,” the report went on to say. “One of the officials said Pompeo’s office was then notified.”
A lengthy list of the who were invited or attended included conservative politicians, justices, Fox News hosts, CEOs and other members of President Trump’s cabinet. Among the names obtained by NBC News were Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito. Porter was identified as the “chief liaison between Pompeo’s office and the Office of the Chief of Protocol, which runs the Madison Dinners.”
The Madison Dinners were not on Pompeo’s official schedule, NBC reported Wednesday, and were paid for by taxpayers. They were named for dinners former president and former secretary of state James Madison held with “foreign diplomats to exchange ideas over dinner,” but Pompeo’s dinners were drastically more formal and more lavish, NBC indicated. Madison also paid for his own dinners in his own time, a professor and Madison biographer interviewed by NBC said.
The report characterized the dinners as focused on domestic policy and as possible indications of Pompeo’s political ambitions.
The State Department defended the dinners. It said guests included “many foreign diplomats, thought leaders, academics, government leaders at many levels, business leaders, Members of Congress and the media.” They came together as part of a “a world-class opportunity to discuss the mission of the State Department and the complex foreign policy matters facing our exceptional nation,” a spokesperson told NBC.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to the State Department that he was “concerned” by the accusations that Pompeo “appears to be using . . . taxpayer resources to host large domestic-focused political gatherings that serve little-to-no foreign policy purpose.” Menendez asked for a financial accounting of the affairs and copies of remarks Pompeo made at them.
Among the guests NBC identified as having been invited to or having attended the various dinners were:
- Reba McEntire (country singer);
- New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu;
- NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr.;
- Princess Reema bint Bandar (Saudi ambassador to the U.S.);
- Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy;
- National security adviser Robert O’Brien;
- Fox News host Brian Kilmeade;
- Fox News host Laura Ingraham;
- Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth;
- American Gaming Association President Bill Miller;
- Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of an anti-abortion lobbying organization;
- Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.);
- Chick-fil-A Chairman Dan Cathy;
- AOL co-founder Steve Case;
- Home Depot founder Ken Langone;
- Hedge fund executive Paul Singer;
- Texas real estate tycoon Harlan Crow;
- 7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto;
- Steve Cannon, whose company owns the Atlanta Falcons;
- Karl Rove, a George W. Bush strategist;
- David Urban, a Trump 2020 consultant;
- Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary;
- Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary;
- Mark Esper, the defense secretary;
- Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito;
- Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
NBC noted that it is unclear from the records it obtained whether some of these individuals actually attended or were merely invited to the dinners. Per NBC’s statistical summaries:
Twenty-three percent of invitees have been associated with media or entertainment, and another 30 percent are government types: current or former officials, members of Congress and judges and their spouses. Media figures skew heavily toward conservative TV personalities, with 39 percent of them from Fox News.
Only 14 percent are diplomats or foreign officials. More than 50 ambassadors show up on the guest list, with nearly two-thirds from countries in Europe and the Middle East and smaller numbers from Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) recently said Linick, the inspector general currently being ejected, was investigating an arms deal with Saudi Arabia which was nearly complete when Linick was given his thirty-day notice and subsequently barred from accessing his own office. Pompeo refused to sit for an interview about the $8 billion deal, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday; the New York Times reported that Pompeo instead answered written questions. Yet the possibility Linick could have been probing the dinners raises another area of concern for critics of Linick’s termination and of Pompeo himself.
[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]
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