Multiple State Department officials, as well as a source close to the White House, have told CNN Tillerson’s decision not to send senior State Department officials to this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit, being held in India next week, is not related to his key project of slashing the Department’s budget, and is more to do with the fact Ivanka Trump is leading the US delegation this year. Trump was invited by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June, and this year’s theme is supporting women entrepreneurs.
The State Department puts on the large yearly event, which Secretary of State John Kerry and even President Obama attended multiple times. But this year, according to one senior State Department official: “No one higher than the deputy assistant secretary is allowed to participate. The secretary and his top staff have insisted on approving all travel– even the most minute details.”
“They (Tillerson and his staff) won’t send someone senior because they don’t want to bolster Ivanka. It’s now another rift between the White House and State at a time when Rex Tillerson doesn’t need any more problems with the President,” the official added.
A source close to the White House speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the thinner-than-past-years State Department delegation was absolutely being perceived and felt — by several key people there — as a snub, and that Tillerson’s management style and extremely tight inner circle have rubbed some in the administration the wrong way.
The source said the feeling among some within the White House, is that Tillerson and his team are far from eager to throw the support of the State Department behind Ivanka Trump on this trip, which will be her highest-profile appearance yet representing the United States.
“Rex doesn’t like the fact that he’s supposed to be our nation’s top diplomat, and Jared and now Ivanka have stepped all over Rex Tillerson for a long time,” the source said. “So now, he’s not sending senior people from the State Department to support this issue. He’s not supporting Ivanka Trump.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told CNN that: “The Department is committed to supporting women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, and the Summit is a prime opportunity to showcase the importance of these themes.”
Last year’s summit, which was held in California’s Silicon Valley and made travel easier, included Secretary of State Kerry, a State Department undersecretary, two assistant secretaries, and other staff. President Obama attended with a large delegation when it was held in Kenya in 2015, as did Kerry when it was in Malaysia in 2013.
This year’s event, though, falls just as the White House has directed Secretary Tillerson to slash his agency’s budget. There is currently no permanent Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs. Also, the Entrepreneurship Summit was an Obama-era creation that started in 2010, so some change in approach would have surely been expected.
Still, State Department leadership has lately emphasized a commitment to forging a stronger relationship with India. And the President’s daughter is going, being billed in the Indian press as the “star attraction.”
The Acting Assistant Secretary for the central Asia region, Alice Wells, was originally slated to be at the Summit — but has since been pulled off by Tillerson’s team, according to a source.
Another official did say there are many State Department staffers involved and who will attend, but didn’t have an explanation for why no higher-level people will be going this year. The official added that he was unaware of tensions or the internal chatter over supporting the first daughter, who serves as a senior White House advisor.
A spokesperson for the State Department who provided a list of senior government officials attending did not include any senior State Department officials. He did include US Treasurer Jovita Carranza, USAID Administrator Mark Green and Neomi Rao, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The US Ambassador to India will join the delegation in Hyderabad.
Ivanka Trump’s spokesman declined to comment on the story.