It was mid-May, about six weeks after Trump appointee Mari Stull began her new job as senior adviser at the State Department's Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
As senior adviser at the bureau, Stull was in charge of making sure President Trump's agenda was represented at the many international organizations the U.S. participates in and mostly funds, such as the United Nations and its various agencies.
Stull and her boss, Amb. Kevin Moley, had just left for a trip to Geneva for the World Health Assembly. Back at the State Department, Erin Barclay, a senior career diplomat at the IO Bureau, invited more than ten civil servants within the bureau to a lunch meeting.
At the meeting, Molly Phee, another senior career diplomat, went around the table and asked each civil servant for complaints about Stull and took notes. Another senior career diplomat in the IO bureau, Nerissa Cook, was also there. One civil servant who participated in the meeting would later say the meeting felt uncomfortable, and that there was pressure to say something.
Several weeks later, the first hit piece against Stull ran in an exclusive Foreign Policy report. The June 13 piece alleged that Stull was "vetting" U.S. employees at the State Department and at the United Nations to determine whether they were "loyal" to President Trump.
The piece also alleged Stull had a "highly secretive management style," had emerged as the most "dominant force" in the bureau, had required that she review new directives from the office before they went out, and that she was stripping references to "international law" and "international order" from action items and memos.
Not one source was named in the piece, which cited the allegations from "nearly a dozen" anonymous "current and former U.S. officials." The piece did, however, mention three deputy assistant secretaries of state in the bureau: Phee, Barclay, and Cook, who were said to be leaving to other positions at State.
After the article published, three top Democrats - Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ), Rep. Eliot Engel (NY), and Elijah Cummings (MD) - then sent a letter dated June 19 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo citing the article and demanding documents related to Stull and her alleged vetting of employees' loyalty.
Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan then launched an investigation into whether Stull had been vetting employees for loyalty, according to a source.
Some officials now believe the meeting was to collect ammunition to be leaked to Foreign Policy. At least several civil servants who participated in the meeting are now planning to file a complaint against Phee for putting them on the spot and making them gripe about Stull, according to the source.
The episode reveals what some officials and outside observers believe is a concerted leak campaign to force out a Trump appointee at a bureau that has seen results in the implementation of Trump's policies.
Leaks like these from what has become known as "the Deep State" have plagued the Trump administration since it took office.
Most operators in the Deep State - a loosely connected group of holdovers from the Obama administration, Republican appointees who disagree with Trump's agenda, as well as several of the 2.8 million career government employees working throughout the federal bureaucracy - have operated with near impunity, facing no consequences for their actions.
They remain anonymous, like the author of a recent op-ed in the New York Times, and have been aggressive - wiping out many of the president's appointees. Breitbart News, through this exclusive report, is exposing just a sliver of how these leakers maneuver - naming names and detailing the process through which they engage in their anti-Trump attacks.
When queried about the leaks, a State Department spokesperson told Breitbart News "the unauthorized release of information, whether it's classified or not, is always a concern of the State Department."
"The Bureau of Diplomatic Security takes the lead on investigating potential instances of improper disclosure of classified and sensitive information. We do not comment on ongoing investigations."
But after the first wave of leaks against Stull, more and more have been coming, in faster and faster succession.
Another exclusive Foreign Policy piece on August 2 alleged that Stull had solicited suggestions - but did not include all of them - in a rebuttal to a UN report that alleged 40 million Americans are poor and more than five million live in "Third World conditions."
It also alleged Stull had "ridiculed" the findings of the report, since she had joked in an email that her teenage sons were "destitute" and "living off the welfare state of Mom." Again, the report did not cite a single source on the record, citing only leaked internal emails and documents. The report was then regurgitated by multiple other outlets.
Politico reported on August 22 that the State Department inspector general was investigating another Trump appointee at the State Department, Brian Hook, as well as Stull for political retaliation against career officials. The investigation into Hook for political retaliation predated Stull's hire.
A Government Executive article, also on August 22, said two Democrat lawmakers, Engel and Cummings, had sent a letter to Pompeo that questioned Hook's promotion amid allegations of political retaliation. The letter also mentioned Stull.
Foreign Policy's next exclusive article came September 7, alleging that the inspector general was also investigating Stull for allegedly "hurl[ing] homophobic slurs at a State Department staffer."
It also alleged Stull had blocked the promotion of one career official to a top human rights post because the official had previously been involved in overseeing humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. The article cited "at least 10 current and former" anonymous State Department officials.
Breitbart News queried the inspector general's office, which could not confirm that Stull was under investigation - indicating that if such an investigation into Stull exists, it was leaked through unauthorized channels.
Stull did not respond to a request for comment, but those who know her say the allegations are completely false and that they are sickened by the nasty and unrelenting attempts to get her fired for doing her job.
One of those disputing the allegations is Susan Yoshihara, senior vice president at the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) and director of the International Organizations Research Group in New York.
Yoshihara, also a retired U.S. Navy commander, is well-connected within the international organization community and the State Department. She told Breitbart News that the allegations against Stull are the "fabrications of disgruntled employees," in reference to Phee, Barclay, and Cook.
"They are also part of a broader political campaign to thwart the foreign policy of a president they openly disdain," she said.
Yoshihara said there is no "loyalty list," and what does exist is a list of qualified U.S. candidates for positions at the United Nations, which is part of Stull's job as senior adviser to the IO bureau to maintain.
Second, on the allegation that Stull had blocked the promotion of one career official to a top human rights post, Yoshihara said Phee had promised the job to someone without the competition required for the job.
In addition, she said when Trump's team arrived in April, they decided the U.S. would soon pull out of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). She said Phee was understandably disappointed, but her accusation that the candidate's sexual orientation mattered is "unfounded."
Yoshihara said a senior diplomat in another bureau told her that one complaint against Stull was about a Palm Sunday branch on her bulletin board in the shape of a cross that allegedly created a "hostile" work environment.
A long-time friend of Stull who is a gay and a Democrat told Breitbart News he is sickened by the smears suggesting that Stull is homophobic. He spoke on anonymity since he is a business owner in D.C. and fears retaliation.
"I am a proud member of the resistance, and we have plenty of opportunities at our disposal to discredit this administration," he told Breitbart News. "But untruthful character assassination, especially against a woman who has been an ally of the LGBTQ community [is] wrong. I've known Mari for over a decade. In that time, she has been a big sister to myself and many of my gay friends."
"Like many in D.C., our families are in far flung places. Mari has opened her home to us for meals, provided financial help without expecting repayment, come to important milestone events in our lives, offered myself and others relationship advice - particularly in times of real crisis...and while she was working and raising her own family," he said.
"I don't want to draw attention to the bullsh-t that this is, but this is personal," he said. "She has been someone in my life and other gay people when we had no one. And that hasn't changed."
Another long-time friend of Stull who is also a human rights lawyer and lifelong Democrat said she was also sickened by the attacks against Stull. She told Breitbart News that Stull would never put together "loyalty" lists based on political affiliation and that Stull had even forwarded her resumé for consideration for a job at the UN.
"You know that old saying - throw it against the wall and see if it sticks? That's what they're doing here," she told Breitbart News. "I'm really angry about it."
Heritage Foundation senior fellow Brett Schaefer, who is also connected within the State Department, said there is no way to verify if any of the leaks against Stull are true because they are anonymous. He also called the anonymous leaks of the inspector general investigation unfair since Stull and others at the State Department cannot comment on ongoing inspector general investigations and confirm whether the allegations are true or not.
"Based on the comments in the [last Foreign Policy] article, individuals have filed complaints against Mari Stull, and if the article is accurate, the inspector general and others are looking into her behavior. Instead of leaking to the press and besmirching her character in that way, the individuals should be content to let the process work it out and those responsible come to the conclusions at the end of their examination," he told Breitbart News.
Yoshihara and others believe the concerted campaign against Stull is a joint effort involving career officials inside State and an outside group composed of former Obama officials, Democrat congressional aides, and Hillary Clinton loyalists.
The group, called "American Oversight," was founded by Austin Evers, the former senior counsel in the State Department for oversight and transparency matters, has been investigating "loyalty tests and retaliation" since February 2018 - before Stull was ever hired at State.
"From the very beginning of the presidency, it has been clear that President Trump values loyalty over qualifications and experience," said its website. "Following reports that the administration is assessing the political views of career government employees and attempting to purge those perceived to be ‘disloyal,' American Oversight is investigation how often this is occurring at federal agencies."
The group's first document request related to this mission is February 6, 2018, when it sought records from the Health and Human Services regarding "loyalty pledges."
One week after the first Foreign Policy article on June 13 and two days after the Democrats' letter to Sullivan, the group demanded six different sets of documents on Stull, including her "web history," her emails regarding "her review of State employee's social media," her email communications with .gov email, her communications with Congress, and her calendars. They demanded Moley's and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley's communications as well.
(The group also later requested documents related to "career" and "administration holdovers" from the Small Business Administration, Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Trade Representative as part of other unrelated investigations).
The apparent playbook of anti-Trump career and former officials - leaking allegations to news media outlets in order to spark investigations and more articles that lead to the ousting of Trump appointees - has played out at the Department of Health and Human Services against former HHS Secretary Tom Price, at the Environmental Protection Agency against former EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt, as well as other agencies.
Democrat lawmakers have also spurred on the investigations, constantly reminding Pompeo of his remarks earlier this year he would not tolerate "political retaliation" against career officials at State. Pompeo had also promised to treat everyone the same regardless of sexual orientation, after some Democrat lawmakers accused him of making "homophobic" remarks.
Pompeo reportedly nearly fired Stull in June, but a GOP lawmaker intervened - pointing out that it was Stull who was on the receiving end of political retaliation because she is a Trump appointee.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the anonymous leaks against Stull in a letter he sent to the deputy secretary of state, which was exclusively reported on by Breitbart News.
"I would like to request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss the unwarranted attacks in the media, and leaks from career State Department officials, seeking to undermine the International Organization Bureau's Senior Advisor, Mari Stull," Smith wrote in the letter.
"Ms. Stull has been a stellar addition to the State Department and remains faithful to the Trump Administration's reform agenda. It is precisely because she is both loyal and effective that she is subject to such partisan attacks," he wrote.
Sources say that after Pompeo read Breitbart News's report and Smith's intervention, he changed his mind.
It was a near scalp for the Deep State.
Stull's supporters say she is also being targeted because she is effective. Together, the IO bureau under Moley and Stull have moved quickly on a number of items on the Trump administration's agenda.
The bureau led efforts to defunding of the UN Relief and Work Agenda (UNRWA), which happened earlier this month. It also worked on the U.S. pulling out of UNHRC, which occurred in June.
The bureau also penalized the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for not protecting whistleblowers by reducing the U.S.'s monetary contribution by 15 percent. It also reduced U.S. taxpayer contributions to UN peacekeeping operations from 28 percent to 25 percent.
The bureau also sold two expensive Paris apartments that supported the U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), after the U.S. pulled out of the organization last year, for its recognition of Palestine as a member, and for its anti-Israel bias.
Moley and Stull are also allegedly working on holding the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) accountable and making sure U.S. funds do not go to international organizations that fund abortions.
They have also been working on implementing the "Mexico City Policy," which the Trump administration put into effect upon taking office, which prevents U.S. taxpayer funds from going to non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services.
Stull has also been working on filling empty U.S. positions at the UN and its agencies.
The bureau's last report to Congress in 2016 showed that all five international organizations studied, including the UN Secretariat, failed to fill all the slots allotted for Americans, and only two took "sufficient good faith steps" to fill them - despite the U.S. paying the lion's share of these organizations.
"Ordinary working people will recognize the pettiness of what is being slung at Stull for doing her job," Yoshihara said. "Stull has been bullied, harassed, and maligned by anonymous sources and by the media since she began government service."
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson famously hired so few appointees during his tenure that careerists had to fill some appointee roles. Currently, Moley and Stull are the only two Trump appointees in the entire IO bureau of some 500 employees.