Nearly 1,000 State Department staffers have signed a letter expressing disagreement with President Trump’s executive order that temporarily suspends the U.S. refugee program and bars immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.
The letter and a comment by White House spokesman Sean Spicer that dissenters should “get with the program or they should go,” prompted Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to tell Trump to refrain from retaliating against State Department employees. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits reprisal or disciplinary action against anyone who uses the formal channel, the lawmakers said.
“We are requesting your assurances that State Department personnel will not be subject to harassment or retribution if they take advantage of the Dissent Channel or offer policy advice that doesn’t align with White House policy decisions,” the letter, signed by Rep. Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the committee, and other members, said.
The letter originated at the consular division of State, which handles visas and refugee applications, and was signed by at least 900 State Department staffers, including senior officials, according to Democratic Congressional aide. The aide, who is familiar with the letter but was not authorized to discuss it publicly, requested anonymity.
The State Department confirmed a “dissent cable” Tuesday, but would not characterize the subjects, number or level of signatories, in order to respect the process that permits individuals to express views to senior leadership.
“The Dissent Channel is a longstanding official vehicle for State Department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues,” said acting spokesperson Mark Toner. “This is an important process that the Acting Secretary, and the department as a whole, value and respect. It allows State employees to express divergent policy views candidly and privately to senior leadership.”
According to State’s Foreign Affairs Manual: “Officers or employees found to have engaged in retaliation or reprisal against Dissent Channel users, or to have divulged to unauthorized personnel the source or contents of Dissent Channel messages, will be subject to disciplinary action.”