Rice to Embassies: Give McCain, Obama Minimal Help
July 21, 2008 - 2:40 PMOn the eve of Democrat Barack Obama's overseas tour, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told employees at U.S. embassies to provide only minimal help to visiting presidential candidates.
The orders went to all overseas posts and tell government employees not to do anything that might show favoritism or amount to improper campaign activity. A spokesman said the State Department issued similar orders ahead of presumed Republican nominee John McCain's similar overseas tour four months ago, but limited the communication to embassies in countries the Republican planned to visit.
The spokesman said there was nothing unusual about either set of instructions or their timing, but would not provide the full text.
"I don't have any information to show that it was anything but us providing information to the field about what we're expecting our folks to be doing," spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said Monday.
Gallegos said there was no "specific reason that because he, this specific candidate, is going out that we now have to remind everybody," but said embassy employees did have questions about what was appropriate. Rice's all-points memo was meant to make sure that "everybody is singing off the same sheet of music," Gallegos said.
Government employees are prohibited from certain political activity on the job and cannot perform campaign work. Rice's orders give examples of things embassy employees should not do, such as arrange high-level meetings for visiting candidates or get involved in nitty-gritty logistical details.
As an example of appropriate logistical help, Rice's memo, sent late Thursday, said, "If the campaign staff wants to rent a bus for press, tell them where they can rent a bus."
Rice's order, first reported by The Washington Times, makes clear that the rules apply to either candidate. The rules are more complicated this year because both candidates are members of Congress, who are normally accorded extensive embassy support when they travel overseas.
Under ordinary circumstances, diplomats might meet congressional delegations at the airport, set up briefings with the host government, and arrange sightseeing or shopping tours.
Obama's trip is further complicated by the fact that two fellow senators, Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., traveled with him during his visits to Afghanistan and Iraq over the past several days, but Obama will continue solo for other stops in the Middle East and Europe.
Gallegos could not say whether embassy employees made any distinction between Obama and the others when arranging the senators' Iraq visit on Monday. The visit included meetings with top Iraqi officials.
The orders tell diplomats and bureaucrats overseas to treat the candidates as "members of Congress visiting in personal or semi-personal capacities," but "with additional restrictions based on rules related to political activity."
Gallegos said such warnings are standard procedure "every four years."
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