As federal workers file out of the State Department at the end of a Washington workday, an elite group is often just arriving in the marbled, flag-lined lobby: Billionaire CEOs, Supreme Court justices, political heavyweights and ambassadors arrive in evening attire as they're escorted by private elevator to dinner with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Until the coronavirus shut them down in March, the gatherings were known as "Madison Dinners" — elaborate, unpublicized affairs that Pompeo and his wife, Susan Pompeo, began in 2018 and held regularly in the historic Diplomatic Reception Rooms on the government's dime, NBC News reports.
State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo's political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo's personal email address. The officials and others who attended discussed the dinners on condition of anonymity.
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An NBC News investigation found that Pompeo held about two dozen Madison dinners since taking over in 2018. NBC News obtained a master guest list for every dinner through the end of 2019, as well as internal State Department calendars from before the pandemic emerged, showing that future dinners were on the books through at least October. The master list includes the names of nearly 500 invitees and specifies who accepted, although it is possible some individuals RSVP'd but did not show up in Foggy Bottom for dinner.