The Trump administration has zeroed out of the State Department budget a request from a nonprofit set up in honor of Christopher Stevens, the ambassador killed in Benghazi, Libya, in a 2012 terrorist attack.
The agency’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal cuts $420 million from its educational and cultural programs, including $5 million for the Stevens Initiative, an organization created to memorialize the late ambassador’s dedication to cultivating international exchanges.
This appears to be at least the third time that dedicated funding for the program has been removed by President Donald Trump’s budget officials. For the last two years, Congress has restored it.
A State Department official, who provided information on the condition of anonymity to discuss official matters, defended the suggested cut, saying that even if it isn’t included in a final budget, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Stevens program will lose funding.
“The flexibility of the [Educational and Cultural Exchange] ECE budget allows for programs to continue under other line items, such as ‘Professional and Cultural Exchanges,’ even when they do not have a separate budget line item,” the official said in an email.
The attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi became the focus of a protracted Republican-led effort to blame then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton for inadequately protecting Stevens and the three other Americans who were killed.
In 2016, then-candidate Trump used the attack to criticize Clinton, saying, “by the way, with Benghazi and with our ambassador — remember? That’s all Hillary Clinton, folks.”
One of the more outspoken GOP lawmakers during that time was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, then a conservative congressman from Kansas only in his second term. As a member of the GOP-led House Select Committee on Benghazi, he publicly grilled Clinton and other State Department officials over who to fault for the security lapse.
Pompeo accused Clinton of ignoring requests from embassies seeking extra protection. And even after a two-year investigation by the Select Committee turned up nothing to implicate Clinton in the attacks, Pompeo wrote a dissenting view accusing her of putting “political expediency and politics ahead of the men and women on the ground.”
But now, the suggested funding cut to the organization created in Stevens’ memory, comes as the Trump administration, and Pompeo specifically, have been scrutinized for its treatment of U.S. diplomats.
The Ukraine impeachment probe into President Trump’s conduct revealed the White House operating a shadow diplomacy outside normal State Department channels that included an effort to smear the reputation of then-U. S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch, a career Foreign Service officer, was later unceremoniously removed from her post.
Pompeo has come under fire for not doing more to protect Yovanovitch professionally or personally.