Conservatives Push Back Against Attacks on Trump Appointees at State Department

Key U.S. representative at U.N. failed to question honors bestowed on Maduro regime

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• June 28, 2018 5:00 am


Conservative foreign policy experts are pushing back against reports that Trump appointees at the State Department are unduly scrutinizing the records of career U.S. Foreign Service officers assigned to United Nations posts.

There are plenty of reasons to ensure that U.S. diplomats assigned to key U.N. posts are committed to implementing President Trump's foreign-policy agenda and are not working to undermine the administration's efforts to reform the United Nations, according to several right-leaning foreign-policy experts.

An email circulating among conservative foreign policy experts in Washington this week takes issue with Suzanne Palmieri's roughly 14-month tenure at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Rome where she served as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's minister counselor.

Palmieri served at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Rome from July 2016 to September 2017.

Suzanne Palmieri is the wife of Francisco Palmieri, the outgoing principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. The Senate is expected to confirm Kimberly Breier, Trump's choice to head the Bureau of Western Hemisphere, in the coming weeks.

Suzanne Palmieri was originally an Obama-appointed "Schedule C" appointee at the Department of Agriculture where she worked as a coordinator for global food security initiatives, then converted to a career position to serve at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

In her United Nations role, which she left in September, Palmieri had oversight responsibilities for the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, headed by Jose Graziano da Silva.

Conservative foreign policy experts argue that neither Palmieri nor her U.S. predecessors in the position exercised their oversight roles and are incensed that they failed to question or stop several of da Silva's questionable activities.

"In her capacity, she had oversight over FAO. See what the Palmieri duo allowed," the email states, referring to Suzanne Palmieri and her husband Francisco Palmieri in his role as a top State Department official overseeing U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. "U.N. FAO Director-General [Graziano] continues to use his U.N. position to support fellow socialist cronies."

The FAO for decades has been the target of public criticism with conservatives in Washington deriding it as an ineffective and politicized bureaucratic organization whose efforts have been superseded by other international food security organizations.

The United States provided $161.4 million to the FAO in 2016, the latest figures readily available. The organization's annual budget for 2018-2019 is $2.6 billion.

Da Silva is a founding member of Brazil's leftist PPT Workers Party who has written several books on food security. He also served in the cabinet of Brazilian Socialist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has since been jailed on corruption charges.

In his role as FAO director-general, da Silva has supported several leftist regimes, including the government of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro.

In fact, in 2013 and 2015, da Silva honored Maduro with an FAO award for making big strides in helping his nation reduce hunger, even as international media reports were reporting that Venezuela was beginning to go through severe food shortages. The FAO relied on statistics provided by the Maduro government without independently corroborating them.

The Economist magazine in 2015 ridiculed the FAO for honoring Venezuela for its "notable and exceptional" efforts to curb hunger, when the nation's food shortages were actually getting worse. The article was titled "Let them eat Chavismo," a reference to Hugo Chavez, the late left-wing president of Venezuela before Maduro.

Just before Maduro's rigged re-election last month, the New York Times and several other media outlets reported that Maduro was turning the distribution of government-issued food staples into a political weapon and withholding the food from his political opponents.

During her time at the U.N., Suzanne Palmieri never questioned the Maduro honor or sought its rescission, according to her critics.

The email also says Graziano held a minute of silence for FAO employees to honor the death of Fidel Castro in late November 2016.

Graziano previously sent Castro a letter in April 2012 addressed to "Comandante" Castro and used his position as head of the FAO to "sincerely congratulate" the Cuban dictator on fulfilling a World Food Summit goal of reducing by half the number of malnourished persons in Cuba by 2015.

The email also faults Graziano for trying to confer U.N. diplomatic immunity to former Peruvian First Lady Nadine Heredia Alarcon de Humala in late 2016 by appointing her to an official position with the FAO. The immunity was aimed at shielding the first lady from an indictment on corruption charges, including accepting bribes from Hugo Chavez, the late Venezuelan leader. Peruvian authorities arrested her in July 2017 in connection with the scandal, and she was ordered to be held for 18 months.

In January, 2017 Graziano worked with Bolivian President Evo Morales to try to award his government $340 million in "climate change aid" from FAO to help improve food production and irrigation programs in the face of a severe drought.

It's unclear if the funds were ever awarded or if the award is still pending.

Morales, who also is under investigation for corruption charges, earlier this year during the Summit of the Americas called the United States the "biggest threat against freedom, against democracy," and "Mother Earth."

A State Department spokeswoman said Suzanne Palmieri's role in Rome supported U.S. efforts to strengthen global food security.

While the Trump administration has worked to strengthen accountability at the United Nations, the State Department said it does not blame "team members" for failing to raise standards at certain U.N. agencies.

"These agencies do not always live up to their highest purpose or our demanding standards, but in such instances the United States does not blame team members, past or present, but rather redoubles its efforts," the spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon.

"The Trump administration has raised the bar for U.N. performance to unprecedented heights, and will insist on effective, efficient, and accountable leadership from across the U.N. system," the spokesperson added.

Suzanne Palmieri could not be reached for comment. Since leaving government in February, she has joined George Washington University's Food Institute as a fellow. A contact for the organization said she would reach out to Palmieri and tell her that the Free Beacon was trying to reach her.

The Trump administration early last week pulled the United States out of the U.N. human rights council for not living up to its name and for including chronic human rights abusers in its membership, including China, Cuba, Venezuela, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the United States had given the human rights body "opportunity after opportunity" to overhaul its practices and she lambasted the council for "its chronic bias against Israel."

"We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights," Haley said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the organization has a noble vision but "we need to be honest."

"The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights," he said.

Haley said the United States would be happy to rejoin the council if it institutes serious reforms.

President Trump has repeatedly challenged the United Nations to adopt extensive reforms, so the international organization can regain the trust of people around the world.

He has pledged to partner with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to help him implement a series of proposed reforms aimed at fixing various problems, including mismanagement, fraud, and procurement corruption.

His supporters argue that filling vacancies for U.S. posts at the U.N. and in other key State Department positions will help ensure that real reforms take place.

"We have career people just having field days and trying undermine Trump's vision for the State Department," one knowledgeable source said. "They are trying to make it more difficult for Trump appointees to do their jobs because they don't have a full team in place."

"Personnel is policy—everybody in Washington knows that," the source added.

Trump supporters are urging him to keep nominating his own people for State Department posts and to put more pressure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to move them.

They point to the stalled Trump appointment of Jackie Wolcott to become the U.S. representative to the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency as another example of the Senate slow-walking key nominees and frustrating Trump's reform agenda.

Wolcott previously served in numerous State Department posts under three different presidents, including as ambassador to U.N. for political affairs. During the George W. Bush administration, she was the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament and special envoy.

Several Democrats, as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), have expressed reservations about Wolcott because she worked for national security adviser John Bolton when he served as ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush years.