FIRST ON FOX: The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is opening an investigation into the State Department over climate czar John Kerry’s apparent frequent consultations with environmental activists.
Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, demanding his agency share additional documents and information related to interactions between Kerry’s office and nongovernmental organizations. According to documents previously obtained by Comer’s panel, Kerry’s staff have privately acknowledged a “kitchen cabinet” made up of prominent left-wing eco groups.
“Meetings with leftist environmental organizations, sometimes collectively addressed as the ‘Kitchen Cabinet,’ go far beyond normal briefings and raise questions regarding possible conflicts of interests involving SPEC staff’s ties to these groups regarding climate finance investments,” Comer wrote. “The State Department claims the ‘Kitchen Cabinet is an existing group of NGOs that sometimes asks SPEC to brief them… nothing unusual or below board.'”
“Documents received by the Committee illustrate that the coordination and briefings are anything but ordinary — a two-way street exists for the purposes of obtaining ‘off the record’ information, receiving climate finance consultation, and influencing U.S. foreign policy positions,” the Oversight chairman continued.
Comer’s letter pointed to an email sent in November 2022 where a staffer in Kerry’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC) reached out to several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund, reminding them that a kitchen cabinet meeting held at the time was off the record.
Additional communications obtained by the committee reveal that the Bezos Earth Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Sequoia Climate Fund engaged with the SPEC office on climate finance policies.
And another internal State Department email involving SPEC staff suggests Mark Gallogly, who has been identified as a major Democrat donor and private equity investor, was hired by Kerry’s office to develop plans for public and private climate financing initiatives.
“The Committee has learned these groups will go as far to hire independent consultants to provide funding opportunities designated for placement of U.S. taxpayer dollars — all while receiving preferential treatment from Envoy Kerry, the SPEC Office, and the State Department who distribute taxpayer dollars to fund their projects,” Comer wrote.
“SPEC staff — past or present — who consult outside groups regarding climate finance matters require heightened accountability for their ties to these groups,” he continued. “The Committee is troubled by the frequency and content of financial-related information discussed at ‘off the record’ meetings between the State Department, SPEC office, and outside groups considering that the Biden Administration has proposed $1 trillion in climate investments over the next 10 years.”
The Oversight inquiry on Wednesday is part of the committee’s ongoing efforts to examine the operations of Kerry and the SPEC office more broadly.
Shortly after taking office in 2021, President Biden appointed Kerry to be the U.S. SPEC, a position that hadn’t previously existed, didn’t require Senate approval and gave him a spot on the president’s Cabinet and National Security Council. The SPEC office is housed at the State Department and has an estimated $13.9 million annual budget with approval for 45 personnel.
However, while Kerry has traveled worldwide, attending high-profile climate summits and diplomatic engagements in an effort to push a global transition from fossil fuels to green energy alternatives, his office has remained tight-lipped about its internal operations and staff members, sparking criticism from lawmakers, including Comer, who have demanded greater transparency.
In his letter to Blinken, Comer further demanded that the State Department begin disclosing the identifications and salaries of SPEC staff. He pointed to a Boston Herald report in January that showed FOIA documents listing SPEC office staff positions and salaries, but redacted the names of the individuals in those positions.
According to the Boston Herald, Kerry’s staff — in positions such as “policy analysts” to “senior advisers” — are collectively paid $4.3 million per year. Some unnamed officials are paid as much as $186,680 per year, making them some of the highest-paid individuals in the federal government.
“The American people deserve to know what is being promised by Secretary Kerry and SPEC staff in off-the-record meetings with leftist environmental groups and whether SPEC staff are undermining U.S. foreign policy, energy policy, and national security policy and discuss climate investments,” Comer wrote.
“SPEC staff’s ties to these groups, in addition to potential foreign government officials and business interests, require transparency and accountability,” he added.
Meanwhile, the inquiry comes one day after energy watchdog group Power the Future filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the State Department, similarly demanding the agency identify Kerry’s staff.
“For nearly three years, John Kerry has been jet-setting on the international climate conference circuit while sending taxpayers the bill,” PTF Executive Director Daniel Turner told Fox News Digital. “Today, we begin the process of teaching John Kerry and Joe Biden that they work for the taxpayers. No one should have to waste resources on litigation, but that is our only option since John Kerry thinks he can keep his office off the books.”
The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.