The State Department is preparing to recommend that the Trump administration’s top representative for Iran policy receive disciplinary action for his role in politically motivated firings of employees at the department, according to two government sources involved in carrying out the investigation.
The department’s inspector general has been investigating Brian Hook and other State Department officials for their involvement in layoffs and other personnel decisions that impacted individuals who were thought to have perceived loyalty to the Obama administration. Several whistleblowers raised allegations against Hook and others, prompting the inspector general to analyze emails and other documents as part of the probe. The recommendation for Hook is set to be outlined in a new report by the inspector general. It is due out within the next several weeks.
Hook is one of the main Trump officials helping craft and promote the administration’s Iran policy. He liaises with the Treasury Department and the White House on Iran sanctions and Jared Kushner’s proposed Middle East peace plan. Hook worked with former National Security Adviser John Bolton during his time as the United Nations ambassador, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brought him in to work on Middle East policy. Hook has traveled overseas to places like Israel and Saudi Arabia to work on gaining the confidence of allies on the U.S.’ so-called strategy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran.
The Daily Beast reported in March that Hook was among at least eight administration officials the inspector general was examining over reprisals against career department personnel for their perceived disloyalty to the president. At that time the investigation was in its final stages. The State Department at the time told reporters that “the personnel accusation” was “without merit and has no evidentiary, procedural, or legal basis.”
It’s taken several months for the IG office to get to this point. This report, although not 100 percent finalized, is the second part of a larger study about the State Department. The first section found that State Department officials harassed, mistreated, and retaliated against employees deemed disloyal to President Trump. It did not mention Hook.
Hook is reportedly in the running for national security adviser following Bolton’s departure earlier this week. Any findings of fault or recommendations for discipline would likely hurt his chances at moving up in the national security ranks. Both officials who spoke to The Daily Beast agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the State Department investigation.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The public first learned about the State Department’s investigation when in early 2017 Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career official and Iran expert, had her assignment to Hook’s policy-planning directorate cut short. The Conservative Review soon after wrote that Nowrouzzadeh, an “Iran deal architect,” had “burrowed into the government under President Trump.”
Outside parties, including Newt Gingrich, sent that article around to State Department officials. Hook received the article and sent it to a career staffer in the policy planning office, Edward Lacey. Lacey, in an email first reported by Politico, called Nowrouzzadeh and other colleagues “Obama/Clinton loyalists.”
Lacey told Hook, “I succeeded in ousting five whose details expired before your arrival.”
Hook replied, “Ed– This is helpful. Let’s discuss on Monday.”
It’s that email and several others that have come under scrutiny by the State IG’s office, sources say.
When Nowrouzzadeh was reassigned, Politico reported on it. State officials attempted to craft a response for the piece. “[H]ow about saying something like: ‘It is regular practice for detailees to return to their parent office at the completion of their detail assignments,’” Lacey emailed colleagues on April 17, 2017, according to emails obtained by The Daily Beast.
Nowrouzzadeh replied: “Ed—My assignment was not ‘completed.’”
Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in August 2018 expressed alarm about Hook’s appointment as the special representative for Iran. “Internal documents... show [Hook] engaging in significant acts of political retaliation against career State Department employees,” they wrote to Pompeo.
Since that time, the State Department has handed over investigative documents and emails to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Both are conducting an internal investigation into political retaliation at the State Department. The IG report has not yet reached Capitol Hill.