WASHINGTON — The senior adviser central to the investigation into allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used an employee to run personal errands is now leading the charge to find support among former staffers against what they describe as a "smear campaign," NBC News has learned.
Shortly before he was fired, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was looking into allegations that Pompeo senior adviser Toni Porter was asked to walk the secretary's dog, pick up his laundry and make dinner reservations for him and his wife, Susan, NBC News reported.
The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits using the office for personal benefit. Pompeo has denied knowledge of the investigation.
But in an email sent Saturday and obtained by NBC News, Porter and Jim Richardson, the U.S. Agency for International Development's director of foreign assistance, asked Pompeo's former congressional staffers to sign a letter in solidarity against the "unfounded attacks," claiming that a "smear campaign" had been launched against the secretary. The letter was first reported by The Hill.
"In our time working with them, Mike and Susan never expressed that a task was so trivial or mundane as to be beneath them," says the letter, which was obtained by NBC News. "In fact, any task worth doing in the Pompeo organization was worth doing with maximum effectiveness — because that's what the constituents deserved."
Porter and Richardson are current State Department employees with longstanding ties to the Pompeos dating back to his time in Congress.
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NBC News reached out to more than 25 former employees of the secretary during his time as a member of Congress from Kansas to ask whether they had been approached to sign the letter. As of Sunday evening, 23 former staffers had signed on to express their support.
"We are honored to have served alongside him during his time representing the 4th District of Kansas, which he did with dignity, honor, and respect," the letter says. "His stewardship of American taxpayer dollars — both in legislation and in his own office budgets — rightly prioritized value, efficiency, and sound moral judgment."
But a source familiar with the situation said one former employee of the secretary felt compelled to sign the letter for fear of retribution from his former boss. According to a source familiar with the staffer's experience, the staffer said that in their experience, the claims that "Mike picked up his own dry cleaning" and "bought his own lunch," as detailed in the letter, were inaccurate.
While in Congress, Pompeo often asked the staffer to perform personal tasks, a source familiar with the former employee's experience told NBC News.
The tasks included driving him to congressional events, taking his car through the car wash and filling up his truck and car with gas, on top of fetching his lunch, the source said, adding that the retrieval of Pompeo's shirts and suits was a task the aide carried out both during and after hours.
The Office of Congressional Ethics has found similar tasks to be in violation of House rules and standards of conduct.
Staff assistants and other staffers are known to walk their bosses' dogs when the members are sick or have very late votes, the source familiar with the situation acknowledged, saying the situation varies from office to office.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment about the letter and specific claims detailed to NBC News. Porter and Richardson also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last week, Pompeo dismissed allegations that he asked staff to run personal errands.
"I've seen the various stories that — like, someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner," the secretary said, laughing. "I mean, it's all just crazy. It's all crazy stuff."