“Vino Vixen” and her boss run into trouble

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State Department bosses harassed and berated employees who were thought to be disloyal to Donald Trump, an Inspector General’s report said.

Kevin Moley

Assistant Secretary Kevin Moley, who heads the department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, and Mari Stull, former senior advisor to Moley, were hostile and disrespectful toward career employees “based on their perceived political views,” the IG’s report said.
Moley denied the accusations, telling the IG investigators:

…the behavior attributed to me regarding raising my voice, berating employees, and contributing to a hostile work environment does not represent the person I am or have ever been. There are six current or former State Department foreign service officers who have served with me, who have gone on to become Ambassadors, and can attest that the behavior attributed to me in this report is not reflective of their experience. Moreover, there are countless foreign service, civil service, and locally employed state who would testify to this fact.

Stull, a former blogger who wrote under the name the Vino Vixen, is a former lobbyist for the food and beverage industry. She has left the bureau and did not respond to the IG’s requests for comment.
The bureau is the federal government’s go-between with the United Nations and other international agencies and organizations.
The report said Moley and Stull created a negative and vindictive environment. It stated:

Nearly every employee interviewed by OIG raised concerns about the leadership of IO (International Organization) and the treatment of staff.
Several current and former IO employees reported that Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff. Senior Department officials outside of IO were particularly concerned about such treatment directed at more junior employees. Although some IO employees reported that they had never witnessed Assistant Secretary Moley or Ms. Stull behave unprofessionally, the majority of employees OIG interviewed either directly experienced hostile treatment or witnessed such treatment directed at others. In fact, one IO employee told OIG that working with Ms. Stull involved “six to eight hostile interactions per day.” Furthermore, as described below, concerns regarding the mistreatment of employees were also expressed by senior Department officials outside of IO.

According to the report:
Several IO supervisors reported that Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull would directly assign their subordinates work without routing the task through the employee’s chain of command to ensure that the employee had sufficient time or experience. In several cases, employees took longer than expected to complete the task or could not find the exact information requested. Interviewees reported that Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull berated the employees for failing to complete the task as expected, often in a harsh and aggressive manner. For example, in April 2018, Ms. Stull asked a mid-level employee, without going through the employee’s supervisors, for information about another nation’s contributions to the UN. Ms. Stull did not believe the data provided was accurate, called the work product “garbage,” and threw it at another employee.

Mari Stull

Other employees reported that they were reprimanded by Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull for following established Department policies and procedures. Many of these exchanges involved the document clearance process, through which different bureaus give their input to documents conveying information and recommendations provided to Department leadership.
For example, if a regional bureau planned to send an information memorandum to the Secretary that referred to a UN issue, the regional bureau would first send the draft memorandum to IO staff members for their comments as part of this process. The process usually began with lower-level staff and later could include Ms. Stull or Assistant Secretary Moley, depending on the significance of the issue.
For example, on June 11, 2018, a junior desk officer from a regional bureau sent a briefing paper to the established clearance contacts in IO, which did not include the Assistant Secretary. Ms. Stull then sent an email to the officer criticizing her for excluding the Assistant Secretary, whom she copied on the email. The employee responded to them by stating that the working level clearance contacts in each bureau are responsible for sending documents up their chain of command. Assistant Secretary Moley replied, “I wouldn’t need to be on the clearance if the [document] reflected this Administration’s position! It definitely does not . . . Got it!” Similarly, Ms. Stull was upset that a junior employee had routed a routine paper for clearance to the IO Deputy Assistant Secretary whose portfolio included the issues at hand because Ms. Stull wanted the paper routed to herself instead. Both Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull raised their voices and publicly berated the junior employee, causing her to cry. Assistant Secretary Moley told OIG that he never raised his voice at an employee; he also stated that he had never heard Ms. Stull raise her voice except in speaking with him. However, numerous employees who witnessed the incident raised concerns about it to OIG. According to these witnesses, Ms. Stull later apologized to the junior employee.
In addition, when she first arrived at the Department, Ms. Stull began reviewing prior document clearances and criticized employees for having cleared certain papers prior to her tenure, even if they were authorized to do so. Two employees told OIG that Ms. Stull’s inappropriate conduct had become so pervasive that employees were afraid to put their name on any clearance pages.
In another example, interviewees told OIG that in April 2018, Assistant Secretary Moley blamed the administrative employees who had purchased a flag that Ms. Stull requested for her office for a delay in receiving the flag, even though they had procured it pursuant to established Department processes and the timing was outside their control. Likewise, Assistant Secretary Moley criticized employees when they told him that official travel that he planned in May 2018 did not qualify for first class accommodations under the Department’s travel policies and accused them of “not fighting hard enough” to meet his demands.
As noted above, the Department’s leadership principles articulate expectations that its leaders will value and develop people and be cognizant of their team’s morale. The principles also direct leaders to “establish constructive working relationships” and to be “open” and “sensitive to others.” The conduct described above falls short of these expectations. Criticizing employees for following established procedures and publicly berating employees with raised voices does not comply with this policy, does not create constructive working relationships, and is likely to undermine morale. In addition, some of this conduct likely violates the Department’s policy on threatening behavior. Although this policy is phrased broadly and does not define ”threatening behavior,” it lists the following as examples: “Implied threats, Written or verbal threats, Verbal/mental abuse, Harassment, Intimidation, [and] Bullying.”
Employees told investigators that Moley and Stull “made inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and made positive or negative comments about employees based on perceived political views.”
The report stated:
…several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as “Obama holdovers,” “traitors,” or “disloyal.” Assistant Secretary Moley, however, told OIG that the only occasion on which he heard Ms. Stull make such remarks was in reference to former political appointees whom she believed were converted to career employees. Other career employees told OIG that Ms. Stull accused them of being part of the “Deep State” and that the Assistant Secretary accused them of “undermining the President’s agenda.” In addition, shortly after her arrival in IO, Ms. Stull referred to her IO colleagues as the “swamp” on her personal Twitter account. In contrast, other employees told OIG that Ms. Stull made positive comments about some specific career employees because they reportedly made contributions to Republican candidates. Although OIG found no evidence that any formal personnel actions were taken on the basis of such contributions, the mere discussion of them raises significant concerns as to whether Ms. Stull was engaging in political activity while on duty.
OIG notes one illustrative example. Shortly after Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull arrived at the Department in April 2018, a career employee accompanied a congressional delegation of members of the Congressional Black Caucus to the UN. According to IO officials, IO routinely accompanies such delegations, regardless of the composition of the delegation, because it allows IO to identify any pressing issues of congressional concern. The employee in question was responsible for legislative affairs and accompanying congressional delegations to international organizations was one of her assigned duties. However, when the employee returned from the trip, Ms. Stull expressed displeasure with her for accompanying the Congressional Black Caucus delegation because it consisted of only Democratic members. Ms. Stull accused the employee of trying to “thwart” President Trump and undermine his agenda. After the trip, many of the employee’s job responsibilities were taken away. The employee reported that she was excluded from all sensitive discussions and was effectively no longer IO’s congressional point of contact. She was instead assigned mostly administrative tasks and eventually left the Department because she was frustrated by the lack of substantive work. Other witnesses told OIG that many of the employee’s congressional affairs-related job duties were reassigned after she accompanied the Congressional Black Caucus. Such actions are clearly inconsistent with Department policies requiring that assignments be on the basis of merit.

Mari Stull, the “Vino Vixen”

Prior to her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull was employed with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN and filed an administrative claim regarding her employment with the UN. During this time, she tried to enlist an employee of the IO Bureau to advocate with the FAO to resolve the claim in her favor and to provide her with legal advice. This employee consulted with one of his managers, who advised him to contact the Office of the Legal Adviser (L). The employee did so, and L advised him that such intervention would be inappropriate. The employee, in turn, informed Ms. Stull that he could not assist her, but she continued to press for IO’s intervention. The dispute with the FAO continued during Ms. Stull’s employment as Senior Advisor in IO. OIG found evidence that Ms. Stull retaliated against the two IO career employees whom she believed had been insufficiently supportive of her position in her employment claim with the FAO.
When Ms. Stull arrived at the Department in April 2018, she began to vocally express her disfavor with both the employee from whom she sought support and his manager (who advised him to contact L). Several IO employees reported that Ms. Stull frequently criticized the work of the employee and his manager to the Assistant Secretary and other IO leaders. For example, she told the Assistant Secretary in the presence of others that one of the individuals was “unprofessional” and was trying to “undermine” her without providing any basis for such opinions. IO employees told OIG that Ms. Stull frequently complained to the Assistant Secretary about the manager’s continued presence in the bureau. Ms. Stull also assigned a lower-level employee to sit in on and “monitor” the manager’s phone calls with multilateral institutions and IO posts, an idea that the then-PDAS deemed inappropriate and halted. Assistant Secretary Moley told OIG that the only complaints he could recall Ms. Stull making about these employees related to “policy disagreements” and failure to copy colleagues on emails. However, OIG found that Ms. Stull’s complaints about both employees began almost immediately after she joined the Department and before she had an opportunity to work with them. Both employees consistently received outstanding performance evaluations.

Mari Stull’s Twitter page declares: “Socialism fails.”

OIG found that Ms. Stull, with the Assistant Secretary’s acquiescence, took other concrete retaliatory actions regarding the employee whose intervention she had sought prior to her tenure at the Department. This employee had long handled the food security portfolio in IO and was recognized as the Department’s leading expert on this topic. Nonetheless, Ms. Stull engaged in several discussions with various IO managers about removing this portfolio from the employee without providing any reason for doing so. In September 2018, the employee was assigned by one of the IO Deputy Assistant Secretaries to the U.S. delegation to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) — food security was one of the delegation’s priorities, and there were several meetings scheduled on the topic. However, days before the event, Ms. Stull and Assistant Secretary Moley removed the employee from the delegation without explanation. Assistant Secretary Moley told OIG that he was unsure of the reason for the removal, but other witnesses involved in the selection of delegates told OIG that the employee’s removal was at Ms. Stull’s request. In October 2018, the employee represented the Department at a food security conference. Ms. Stull learned of his attendance during the conference and berated his supervisors for approving his attendance, telling them that the employee “had no right” to attend.
Ms. Stull’s criticism of these employees and her attempts to remove job responsibilities from the employee whose assistance she sought appear likely to have been based on her belief that the individuals did not provide her with sufficient assistance in her private employment dispute. The positive recognition previously received by the employees and their history of strong performance cast doubt on other possible justifications, particularly given Ms. Stull’s short tenure with the Department at the time she began raising these criticisms. The Department holds all of its employees to principles of ethical conduct that include placing loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain. Retaliation against employees based on their compliance with guidance from L not to provide Ms. Stull with the support she was seeking in her private employment dispute violates these principles. Ms. Stull’s actions raise concerns that the leadership of IO violated the Department policy that assignments must be made solely on the basis of merit.
Several employees told OIG that they approached the Assistant Secretary at various times with concerns about treatment of employees and management of the bureau. These employees consistently reported to OIG that Assistant Secretary Moley reacted negatively when employees brought concerns to him and that, rather than addressing the issue directly, he tended to minimize the concern or place blame on others. Assistant Secretary Moley told OIG that no employees had “ever” raised concerns with him regarding morale or treatment of employees. However, this is inconsistent with the statements of numerous IO employees from different offices who described to OIG such conversations with the Assistant Secretary.

Similarly, when individuals raised concerns with Ms. Stull about her treatment of employees, she asserted that she was herself the victim of harassment and informed at least one employee that raising such concerns was pointless because the Trump administration “has my back.”

The Department’s leadership principles set forth expectations that its leaders will encourage an atmosphere of open dialogue and trust and “discourage counter-productive confrontation.” They also expect leaders to be self-aware by being “tuned in to the overall attitude and morale of the team and be proactive about understanding and soliciting varying points of view.” The Assistant Secretary’s and Ms. Stull’s failure to address repeated concerns brought by IO employees regarding their treatment and morale does not comport with these principles, which contemplate that Department leaders respond respectfully when faced with criticism rather than blame others or excuse their own conduct.
Additionally, the Assistant Secretary failed to adjust his conduct when Department officials expressed concerns regarding the management of IO. Beginning in late April 2018, a succession of increasingly more senior Department officials shared concerns they had received regarding the leadership and management of IO directly with Assistant Secretary Moley. However, OIG found that Assistant Secretary Moley did not undertake any meaningful efforts to address these concerns. Furthermore, in the course of this review, OIG continued to receive accounts of the same type of conduct against which the Assistant Secretary had been counseled, such as hostile treatment of employees, allegations of disloyalty, and conflicts of interest.
In late April 2018 (shortly after Assistant Secretary Moley arrived), then-Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss concerns about management of the bureau that Under Secretary Shannon had heard from several IO employees. Under Secretary Shannon told OIG that he reminded Assistant Secretary Moley that his first responsibility is to the Secretary and that he put himself at risk by not exercising leadership and granting Ms. Stull an “unprecedented level of independence” to manage the bureau, especially during the critical period before UNGA. Under Secretary Shannon advised against managing the bureau by intimidating staff and questioning their loyalties.
After this meeting, employees continued to raise similar concerns with Department leadership, including Acting Under Secretary Stephen Mull (Under Secretary Shannon’s successor). On June 13, 2018, Acting Under Secretary Mull contacted Assistant Secretary Moley and recounted these concerns, including an email exchange that the Assistant Secretary had with a junior desk officer, the reported imminent departure of several members of IO’s senior staff, and general reports that he was “targeting” career civil service and Foreign Service officers. Acting Under Secretary Mull advised Assistant Secretary Moley that such reports were “embarrassing” to the Secretary and ran counter to his priority of lifting morale and forging a better sense of teamwork. Acting Under Secretary Mull directed him to take several steps, including:

  • Direct Ms. Stull to stop all further public engagement (e.g., social media posts) in which she criticized Department employees;
  • Verify that Ms. Stull had formally recused herself from all activities involving the FAO;
  • Deliver a message to all IO employees, either through an all-hands town hall meeting or a written message to all employees, emphasizing his commitment to inclusion, teamwork, professional respect, and all the other key leadership values; and
  • Develop a staffing plan to manage the concurrent departures of two IO Deputy Assistant Secretaries.

Assistant Secretary Moley took some steps to meet these instructions, such as recruiting an experienced career employee to serve as PDAS, who began in August 2018. On June 15, 2018, Assistant Secretary Moley also sent to everyone in IO an email that did not explicitly identify a “commitment to inclusion” but stated, “We all need to remember that only by expressing, explaining, and debating the widest range of ideas and opinions can we come to the best decisions for our Bureau, Department and our great Country.” In September 2018, shortly after the incoming PDAS arrived, Assistant Secretary Moley asked him to convey a message regarding inclusion to all employees. At a staff meeting, the PDAS acknowledged the allegations described in the June 13 Foreign Policy article and pledged a commitment to inclusion. After the meeting, however, Ms. Stull chastised the PDAS for delivering this message and stated that she was the only victim of discrimination.
Assistant Secretary Moley also told OIG that immediately after his June 13 conversation with Acting Under Secretary Mull, he (Assistant Secretary Moley) directed Ms. Stull to stop all public criticism of Department employees, including on social media. Shortly thereafter, on June 15, 2018, an article that quoted Ms. Stull appeared on the website, heavy.com. In the article, she described the June 13 Foreign Policy article that contained allegations that she was conducting political vetting as “a hit piece written in consort with leakers who want to malign this President and anyone associated with the Administration.” After the heavy.com article was published, on June 20, 2018, Acting Director General William Todd told Assistant Secretary Moley that Ms. Stull’s comment “wasn’t approved, is just going to inflame things more and overall wasn’t helpful.”
Assistant Secretary Moley also acknowledged to OIG that, during this conversation, Acting Director General Todd asserted that he had received credible allegations of retaliation consistent with the allegations in the Foreign Policy article. Assistant Secretary Moley stated that he told the Acting Director General that he had no idea to what he was referring and that the allegations were probably the result of a meeting on May 18, 2018, that the former PDAS had with other IO managers. Assistant Secretary Moley described this meeting as intended to solicit allegations against Ms. Stull.
Ms. Stull’s comments in the heavy.com article caused considerable concern among senior officials at the Department, and on June 25, 2018, Deputy Secretary John Sullivan met with Assistant Secretary Moley to discuss the comments and the general atmosphere in IO. According to Deputy Secretary Sullivan, Assistant Secretary Moley responded that IO employees were misinterpreting his and Ms. Stull’s actions and were over-reacting. Also, on June 25, Deputy Secretary Sullivan and then-Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead counseled Ms. Stull on her treatment of employees.

Shortly after the meeting, Ms. Stull sent Ms. Newstead an email that stated, “please know how very sorry I am that, through my actions, I have unnecessarily caused you to take your time and efforts away from your work and mission at the Department. I’ll work every day to restore your trust and confidence in me – professionally and personally.”

Despite these counseling efforts, multiple witnesses told OIG that the hostile treatment and other conduct described above continued into the fall of 2018, and some of the notable examples described above occurred after Assistant Secretary Moley’s June 2018 meeting with the Deputy Secretary. For example, the incident in which Assistant Secretary Moley and Ms. Stull publicly berated a junior employee, causing her to cry, occurred in October 2018. The removal of responsibilities of the employee whose assistance Ms. Stull requested in her private employment dispute also occurred in the fall of 2018. Furthermore, in his interview with OIG, Assistant Secretary Moley was dismissive of the counseling he received from senior Department leaders. He cited other senior government positions he held in the past and expressed his opinion that individuals such as Acting Director General Todd were in no position to give him advice.
Numerous employees told OIG that these issues have led to a serious morale problem in IO. These issues have also contributed to retention concerns. Approximately 50 of 300 domestic IO employees have departed IO since Assistant Secretary Moley took over its leadership, and nearly all of the former employees who OIG interviewed stated that poor leadership of the bureau contributed to their decision to depart.
The report concluded:
OIG found significant evidence of systemic deficiencies in leadership and management relating to the treatment of career employees, as well as evidence that non-merit-based considerations played a role in at least two personnel decisions. Several employees raised concerns relating to disrespectful and hostile treatment of staff, inappropriate accusations of disloyalty and harassment of employees based on perceived political views, and retaliation based on conflicts of interest. Furthermore, despite being counseled by Department management regarding some of these issues, IO leadership has not adequately addressed these concerns. Such conduct conflicts with the Department’s leadership principles, which set expectations that its management will strive for a collaborative, respectful, and inclusive workplace. Moreover, these failures of leadership have led to serious morale problems in IO and to the departure of a significant number of career staff. OIG encourages the Department to take action to address these concerns promptly.
In a letter to the OIG, Stull said:

I pride myself in handling work situations with tact, directness, sensitivity, and the highest levels of professionalism. This includes a long career of treating people with respect and not “berating, or raising my voice” targeting any employee. The behavior cited in the report is being incorrectly attributed to me.
I unequivocally deny that I publicly berated a junior officer causing her to cry. If such an event occurred, I did not witness it.

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