Conservatives in the Washington diplomatic community are expressing outrage that President Trump has not rescinded the nomination of a career foreign service officer who was a part of Hillary Clinton's inner circle at the State Department to become U.S. ambassador to Colombia.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the nomination of Joseph Macmanus to serve as ambassador to Colombia on a voice vote Wednesday afternoon. Knowledgeable sources say GOP leaders will put his nomination up for a full Senate vote before the August recess.
Macmanus has come under fire for his close ties to Clinton and for his role in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The panel passed his nomination out of committee this week despite fierce opposition to his nomination among several conservative GOP senators, including Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, and national security and foreign-policy experts at the Heritage Foundation and elsewhere.
Cruz and Lee have voiced repeated opposition to the Macmanus choice, and Lee has placed a "hold" on the nomination in an attempt to block his nomination from receiving a full Senate floor vote.
Lee's office on Thursday confirmed that the hold remains in place, but conservatives are still worried because his nomination is continuing to move forward.
Macmanus's nomination was largely viewed as resulting from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's close relationships to top Obama holdovers at State, including outgoing undersecretary of state for political affairs Tom Shannon, who promoted Macmanus for the post.
Conservatives on Capitol Hill and across Washington thought Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would put a stop to it, especially considering his role in aggressively accusing Clinton of negligence and a cover-up around the Benghazi attacks.
"It is baffling, outrageous, and deeply troubling that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton would allow the Joseph Macmanus nomination to go forward" given his close ties to Clinton and his role in the Benghazi scandal, one foreign-policy expert told the Washington Free Beacon.
"In addition, Macmanus has a lack of knowledge and experience in the Andean region, which under any circumstance should automatically disqualify him," the source said. "Even longtime State Department career employees are scratching their heads over this nomination."
Asked whether Pompeo supports Macmanus's nomination, a State Department spokesperson referred the question to the White House, which did not respond.
Back in late November, when the Tillerson was at the helm, a State Department spokesperson defended the nomination in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.
Pompeo's indifference so far to the Macmanus nomination is notable given his outspokenness on Benghazi, which was one of the reasons he gained favor with Trump.
The president tapped him to lead the CIA over another potential candidate, Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) who the president and his top advisers believed was too "soft" on Benghazi.
Pompeo, in mid-2016 while he was serving in the House, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), released a supplement to his colleagues' Benghazi panel's report that was more critical of the Obama administration's handling of the attacks.
The addendum concludes that Clinton "failed to lead" and that the administration "misled the public" about what happened in Benghazi because of the looming 2012 presidential election.
Macmanus served as Clinton's executive assistant for several years and was part of her inner circle of three top aides. His role involved traveling with her and working closely with Cheryl Mills, Clinton's longtime aide and chief of staff, to help manage the professional office and staff. He also served for six months in the same role for Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's second secretary of state.
During a Wednesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Macmanus's nomination, Rubio pressed the nominee on exactly when, on the night of the incident, he knew the Benghazi attack was terrorism.
"When did you know the attacks were terrorism and not related to anti-American protests and when did you first inform the secretary of state of that fact?" Rubio asked Macmanus.
Macmanus said he called the incursion on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a terrorist attack almost immediately upon learning about it because he believed that's what it was. However, he said his early impression was not a "legal determination."
Internal State Department emails show intelligence reports had told him and other top Clinton aides within hours of the attack's beginning that Ansar al Sharia, a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility.
"I used the term terrorist attack because that's what I judged it to be—the term that I used to describe what was taking place," Macmanus responded. "It was not a legal determination. It was not based on an amass of evidence or analysis, it was the term that I used to describe what I saw taking place."
Macmanus also noted that he deemed the attack terrorism "within minutes" of hearing about it.
Rubio then gave Macmanus a chance to state for the record that he never purposely misled the American people about the nature of the attack.
"Never," MacManus said.
Rubio had previously criticized the nomination but voted in favor of it to clear the committee this past week.
One foreign-policy expert called Macmanus's Senate testimony the" most troubling" aspect of his nomination.
"Macmanus, under oath in the Senate, admitted he knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack, but yet he did nothing to inform Congress or the American people that the Clinton talking points blaming a video were outrageously false," the source said. "As such, Macmanus was knowingly complicit in allowing Benghazi falsehoods and lies to be perpetrated on the American people and members of Congress."
Other conservatives have taken issue with Macmanus's nomination over his lack of recent in-depth experience in Latin America and skepticism that he will be committed to carrying out Trump's "America First" agenda in Colombia after the country has repeatedly thumbed its nose at U.S. priorities.
The Heritage Foundation's David Shedd, a former acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, wrote an op-ed arguing that Macmanus is "not the man for the job," especially considering a spike in cocaine production, which is spilling into American streets.
Colombia's government received roughly $10 billion in funding from the United States between 2000 and 2015 for military and social programs. Before leaving office, Obama signed off on an additional $450 million in aid to Colombia last year to help support a peace deal.
Trump last year warned Colombia it could be decertified as a U.S. partner in the drug war after a record spike in its cocaine production.
Three months later, Bogota appeared to thumb its nose at the threat by significantly lowering its coca-eradication goals for this year.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, a holdover from the Obama administration, appeared to back the more lenient targets, spurring criticism from conservatives in the United States that the Trump administration is not holding the Colombian government accountable.
Already irate over the Trump decision not to withdraw the Macmanus nomination, conservative foreign policy experts are also angry that the Colombia on Friday was invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, despite serious objections from U.S. industries about its commitment to copyright and intellectual property protections, among other concerns.
The OECD is a 36-member international organization that helps democratic countries foster economic growth and world trade.
The U.S. trade representative in mid-February urged Bogota to open its markets to U.S. heavy truck manufacturers and to overhaul the country's practices for making medicines available, a longtime priority for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry.
Critics of Colombia's candidacy for OECD ascension argue that Bogota has yet to make the reforms it should to benefit from the membership.