At every turn, Trump has hamstrung State Department diplomats’ ability to broker foreign policy. Instead, he has another job in mind for them: dig up documents on Hillary Clinton.
Donald Trump apparently thinks the best use of the State Department's time and resources is not to focus on matters of diplomacy and global relations, but rather on a far more important task: digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Trump’s foreign policy is how little latitude Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has requested — or been given — to do his job.
In 2017, U.S. foreign policy is shaped more by Trump’s early-morning tweets than by any summits or negotiations on the part of Tillerson’s diplomats. Insiders describe the State Department as micromanaged and hamstrung, and GOP Sen. Bob Corker accused Trump of "publicly castrating" his secretary of state.
But this does not mean Trump thinks the State Department is useless. He just would rather use it as a weapon in his personal and never-ending vendetta against Clinton.
According to a recent CNN report, Trump is ordering Tillerson to fast-track the release of any Clinton emails they still have, and clear a "backlog" of 13,000 Freedom of Information Act requests to the State Department — many of which are fishing expeditions filed by right-wing activists on Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, and have nothing to do with meaningful issues.
All of this is supposedly in the name of "transparency." But as Trump’s behavior over the past week makes clear, it is really about trying to put Clinton back in the news, and distract from special counsel Robert Mueller as his first indictments start to drop.
It is hard to overstate how inappropriate this is. FOIA requests are rote administrative work. Per Ilan Goldberg, former chief of staff to the Israeli-Palestinian envoy, high-level State Department officials with security clearances are now being ordered to trawl through databases of Clinton’s old documents, rather than do their actual jobs.
"[E]xperienced national security professionals diverted full time to clerical work to feed Trump’s Clinton witch hunt paranoia," Goldberg said.
He added, "Someone needs to FOIA directives & communications having to do with Tillerson’s decision to prioritize FOIAs ... Somehow I feel like that FOIA request might not be processed expeditiously."
Converting the State Department into a Clinton rumor mill is not just a misuse of government resources — it is dangerous. This is all time these career civil servants could be using to try to talk down North Korea, or do damage control on Iranian nuclear policy.
Richard Nixon was taken down for his use of the security state as a weapon against political opponents. Trump appears determined to follow his lead.