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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Biden and Blinken have cause to deep-clean the State Department

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Jan. 27.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Jan. 27. Credit: Pool via AFP/Getty Images / Carlos Barria

Consider the blatantly seditious postures of several State Department officials.

Last Thursday, the FBI announced the arrest of Federico Guillermo Klein, a former department official who served as a political appointee of former President Donald Trump. Klein was charged with taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, according to an official complaint.

Klein "physically and verbally engaged with the officers holding the line" at a Capitol entrance, the complaint said. After ignoring officers’ orders to move back, he allegedly assaulted officers with a riot shield that had been stolen from police, then used it to wedge open one of the doors. And he was caught on video shouting for "fresh people" to come to the front, as The Washington Post reported.

Klein became a staff assistant at the State Department shortly after Trump's 2017 inauguration, fresh from a job in the ex-president's campaign. He was listed with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, where he was paid $66,510. He remained in his job after the Capitol riot but left before Biden was sworn in. Klein had a top-secret security clearance that was renewed in 2019, the FBI said.

Also last week, CNN revealed that the top State Department diplomatic security official in Afghanistan was removed from his role for declaring Trump's defeat by President Joe Biden the "death of America" and for making racial comments about Vice President Kamala Harris on Facebook.

The official, Nick Sabruno, returned to Washington on orders from Ross Wilson, acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Still employed as of Friday, Sabruno was assigned to no specific office or duties, CNN reported.

The case of Fritz Berggren, a midranking Foreign Service officer, has even deeper roots in far-right fringe belief. Politico reported on Feb. 26 that Berggren, whose time on the job preceded Trump, for years has openly called for the creation of Christian nation-states, warned that white people face "elimination" and railed against Jews as well as Black Lives Matter and other social movements.

One year ago this month, Trump at a news conference joked that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was returning that day to, "as I like to call it, the Deep State Department," a trope popular among conspiracy believers. Pompeo never openly resisted Trump’s degrading of the department. The former Kansas congressman allowed the White House to usurp State’s influence when Rudy Giuliani and others prodded Ukraine to smear Biden.

In 2019, the department's inspector general reported rampant mismanagement and "mistreatment of career employees" at the department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs by then-Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley and former senior adviser Mari Stull, both Trump appointees.

The report cited evidence of "disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees," personnel actions with "improper motives" and "harassment" of career employees who were believed insufficiently loyal to Trump. Another report in January 2020 found "staffing gaps, frequent turnover, poor leadership, and inexperienced and undertrained staff frequently contribute to the Department's other management challenges."

Under new Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ejection and replacement of those considered unprofessional, extremist or even subversive can be expected — in part with the assistance of professional diplomats who'd been purged under Trump. Biden covered the terrain vaguely when he spoke of a "course correction" to "better unite our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership." The question now is how much of a counter-purge Blinken & Co. might carry out.