Menendez Drops Hold on Pompeo Friend for State Department Post

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Senator Bob Menendez lifted his hold on a vote for a senior State Department nominee after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo agreed to provide documents linked to an investigation of political retribution at the agency.

The move by the New Jersey lawmaker ended a yearlong standoff, letting Brian Bulatao, President Donald Trump’s nominee for undersecretary general for management, win approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. He now faces a vote by the full Senate, which is expected to approve him quickly.

“I’m disappointed that it’s taken so long for us to vote on Mr. Bulatao,” Menendez said before the Thursday vote. “Last summer, I requested documents related to political targeting at the State Department. And it took nearly a year for the administration to finally engage in a negotiation to provide the necessary documents.”

Bulatao, a classmate of Pompeo’s at West Point, is a close friend and one-time business partner who later became one of his top aides at the Central Intelligence Agency. When Pompeo became secretary of State a year ago, one of his first acts was to push for Bulatao to take the management post, which oversees budget and personnel issues.

The fight over his nomination had become a flashpoint in Pompeo’s larger battle with the Senate over delays surrounding several of his nominees. It dates to demands from Menendez and Democrats in the House of Representatives for documents linked to allegations that Trump administration political appointees at the State Department had sought to remove or reassign career employees who were seen as hostile to Trump’s agenda.

Menendez’s office declined to detail the specifics of the agreement that led to the resolution, but two people familiar with the matter said the State Department had given a firm agreement with clear obligations, and had already turned over some documents sought by the lawmakers. The two people asked not to be identified discussing an agreement that hasn’t been made public.

The State Department is conducting its own investigations into the allegations of political retribution. The department didn’t immediately return emails seeking comment on the matter.

During his nomination hearing last July, Bulatao said he wouldn’t tolerate political litmus tests or allow people to be sidelined for their views.

“I know the secretary truly values the professionalism of both our civil service and foreign service,” he said. “If any of that is occurring, I would encourage, if I’m confirmed, that everyone reports that to the appropriate channels so that they can be looked at.”

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