Politics

Inside an explosive whisper campaign that tried to sink a Biden ambassador pick

Shouldn’t the hedge fund pedigree, a lot much less what looks as if credible rumors of #MeToo points, disqualify him for that Treasury job?

It’s uncommon this sort of speak lands past the ears of the few hundred individuals who suppose they run or need to run this place. However typically, the careers of people that, in concept at the least, are pursuing work in public service are on the road.

That is one such story you’ve not learn earlier than. It options a embellished diplomat with an unblemished document, about to declare a career-defining prize: an ambassadorial posting to a key Center East ally. It includes severe accusations and counter-accusations of racism, none of which had been made publicly. Hidden not far beneath the floor are private histories and coverage disagreements — on this case between appointees of former President Donald Trump and the “Deep State” paperwork that haven’t been put to mattress with the appearance of a new administration.

To inform the story correctly, we want to return three years and begin in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

In late 2018, Steven Bondy — a longtime veteran of the State Division who had served in powerful nations, together with Afghanistan, Egypt and Turkey — ran the U.S. Embassy within the UAE. As chargé d’affaires and performing head of the mission, his position was to handle America’s geopolitical relationship with the UAE, a rich Gulf petrostate, purchaser of billions of {dollars} of U.S. army {hardware} and key regional ally as Trump turned up the temperature on Iran.

Bondy was additionally coping with some difficult workplace politics. The embassy’s protection attaché, then-Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa, was an amiable if considerably freewheeling persona who had taken on an outsized — and for Bondy, discomfiting — movie star standing within the diplomatic relationship. A Inexperienced Beret who was seconded to Abu Dhabi, Correa spearheaded a daring 2017 rescue by U.S. Particular Forces of an Emirati army helicopter that had gone down in Yemen. The operation saved the lives of a number of troopers — amongst them, a younger royal who was badly wounded within the crash.

That act had vaulted Correa into the nice graces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the nation’s de facto ruler, and uncle and father-in-law of the wounded soldier.

In accordance to 9 former colleagues, that rankled Bondy, a lifelong by-the-book diplomat who managed the embassy employees. Bondy ran a tight ship. Correa — who was allegedly inclined to taking his personal conferences with high-ranking UAE officers — didn’t match.

Bondy needed him to heel or get out. He bought the latter, ultimately eradicating Correa from his publish in Abu Dhabi with the consent of senior officers on the Protection and State Departments. Months after, Bondy raised a variety of issues about Correa, telling a Protection Intelligence Company inspector normal that his former colleague was a racist and an anti-Semite, and that he had made homophobic feedback, in accordance to two former senior Trump White Home officers.

The IG report discovered no substantiation for these claims.

Correa quickly discovered a house in Trump’s Nationwide Safety Council. Within the White Home, his shut relationship with high-ranking Emiratis helped seal the deal on the landmark Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between the UAE and Israel.

Correa left the Trump administration in January and retired from lively obligation as a two-star normal in October.

Bondy moved on from the UAE to a senior adviser publish at State and in April was nominated by President Joe Biden to function ambassador in Bahrain, a shut ally that’s house to the U.S. Fifth Fleet within the Persian Gulf.

Then, greater than two years after being faraway from his publish in Abu Dhabi and gone from authorities, Correa determined to share his personal issues about his former boss.

“I got here ahead after retirement upon listening to of his nomination,” he informed POLITICO in early December, nearly two months after Bondy appeared earlier than the Senate International Relations Committee for his affirmation listening to. “I needed the details to come out within the public for our leaders to see your complete image.”

Correa accuses Bondy of creating belittling feedback about Arabs throughout his tenure as chargé d’affaires within the UAE from September 2017 to October 2019. “I might hear him say disparaging remarks about Arabs on a regular basis,” Correa mentioned.

“I recall an occasion of him being dismissive of Center Jap employees,” added Victoria Coates, who interacted with Bondy when she labored out of the UAE embassy from mid-July to August 2020 as particular vitality consultant to Saudi Arabia.

Coates was a deputy nationwide safety adviser to Trump and served with Correa on the NSC. They’re buddies. Two different former Trump administration officers and one other one that interacted with Bondy informed POLITICO that they heard Bondy use insulting and prejudicial or racist remarks about Arabs.

In a assertion to POLITICO, Bondy defended himself: “I vehemently and categorically deny these accusations,” he mentioned. “I’ve devoted my profession to representing america and its pursuits within the Center East. I’ve a deep and abiding respect for the peoples and cultures of the Center East and harbor not one of the prejudices attributed to me.” Bondy refused to remark additional on the document.

When POLITICO approached the State Division about these allegations, it mobilized to his protection. It mentioned Bondy had been completely vetted as a part of the affirmation course of and described him as “a diplomat with a lengthy and distinguished monitor document … with a deep appreciation of the Center East.” The message, per State spokesperson Ned Value: How might a man who “has spent most of his 30-year profession working a few of our nation’s most urgent points in that area, together with two years in conflict zones,” and speaks Arabic fluently, probably be a bigot?

The division introduced ahead 9 character witnesses who spoke with POLITICO on Bondy’s behalf.

“I by no means noticed him communicate derogatorily of our companions within the area, and that doesn’t match with any of my expertise with him,” mentioned retired Gen. Joseph Votel, who employed Bondy to be his coverage adviser when he was commander of Joint Particular Operations Command. “I discovered him to be very, excellent, and he was a good and dependable adviser to me.”

Philip Frayne, who lately retired after a lengthy profession on the State Division and labored with Bondy in three totally different Arab nations, together with the UAE, mentioned Bondy practiced a “agency and decisive but in addition very respectful” management type when he was in command of the mission within the UAE.

POLITICO spoke to dozens of individuals to report out the small print of the whisper campaign.

Bondy’s opponents insisted he can be a poor U.S. envoy to an essential Arab nation. The alleged slurs are disqualifying, they mentioned.

But different motivations had been prompt. One was a want to set the document straight on behalf of Correa, who served greater than three many years within the army, together with particular operations fight assignments in Afghanistan, Iraq and all through the Center East. His allies say he was railroaded out of a job.

Others claimed Bondy lacked diplomatic tact. In accordance to a former embassy official, he stepped in it greater than as soon as with high UAE officers. One instance options the highly effective Emirati ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba, who’s estranged from his father, the previous oil minister of UAE.

“Each time Bondy would see him [he would say], ‘Oh I noticed your dad the opposite day, he’s actually happy with you and what you’re doing. When was the final time you noticed him?’” recalled the previous official who witnessed the alleged episodes. “It was silly stuff like that the place he didn’t do his homework and was at all times offending them, and the remainder of us appeared unhealthy as a result of we had been there attempting to clear it up.”

Otaiba declined to remark.

Senior UAE officers expressed issues about Bondy in conferences with different U.S. authorities officers, a former senior Trump White Home official alleged. On the finish of 1 assembly in March 2018 with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the visiting senior White Home official requested him about what he considered Bondy.

“I requested MBZ, ‘Your highness, what’s up?’ And he mentioned, ‘We’re not a fan of Bondy.’ ‘Why not?’ And he mentioned, ‘We don’t suppose he’s a good particular person,’ and I mentioned ‘What do you imply?’ And he mentioned, ‘He treats his individuals like rubbish.’”

A spokesperson for the Crown Prince didn’t reply to a request for remark.

There are coverage disagreements at play as nicely. A number of the accusers claimed that Bondy tried to block Correa — then in his subsequent job on the NSC — from returning to Abu Dhabi throughout the secret negotiations between Israel, the U.S., Bahrain and the UAE. These conversations would turn into the Abraham Accords, which Correa reportedly coined, and had been signed in September 2020. But Bondy, in his Senate listening to, professed enthusiastic assist for these accords and vowed to construct and strengthen these bonds had been he to be confirmed for the Bahrain publish.

However the partisan coloring is hardest to miss. These whispered fees had been being quietly amplified by a variety of heavyweight Trump NSC and Pentagon officers.

Simone Ledeen, former deputy assistant secretary of Protection for the Center East and daughter of Michael Ledeen — a neoconservative supporter of Trump’s first nationwide safety adviser, Michael Flynn — informed POLITICO she heard about Bondy’s allegedly racist feedback from Correa or one other colleague whereas she served within the Trump administration.

Robert Dias, who was the chief of attaché operations on the U.S. embassy within the UAE, mentioned Correa repeated these allegations to him earlier than being faraway from Abu Dhabi. However neither Ledeen, Dias nor Coates got here ahead with these claims till Bondy was within the last phases of the nomination course of, or till POLITICO contacted them straight. None of them, together with Correa, whispered these allegations of Bondy’s racist remarks to senators, their employees, or different officers throughout Bondy’s vetting course of or after his listening to they informed us. The press was to be the decide and jury.

“It’s shameful and ought to be deeply embarrassing that POLITICO would enable itself to be used to launder false allegations that different shops and bipartisan Congressional staffers have deemed to lack benefit and to be nothing greater than the product of political, private, and office animus,” a senior State Division official mentioned in a assertion in mid-December.

Within the early hours of Dec. 18, the Senate confirmed Bondy to his publish in a voice vote, together with 40 different ambassadors, placing an finish to the sub rosa makes an attempt to sink his nomination. Bondy has but to take up his publish in Bahrain.

The embassy of Bahrain in Washington didn’t reply to a request for remark.

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