The State Department was given money to stop Russian meddling — but hasn't spent it

The State Department was given $120 million by Congress to counter Russian meddling, but has not spent any of it

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published March 5, 2018 12:37PM (EST)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is being scrutinized for his decision to not spend any of the $120 million allotted to the State Department by Congress for combating Russian meddling in American elections.

In addition to not spending any of the funds set aside for that purpose, Tillerson has also not hired a single analyst who speaks Russian, among the 23 who work in the Global Engagement Center, according to The New York Times. Congress had initially allocated $60 million to the State Department near the end of President Barack Obama's second term so that it could work with the Defense Department and Homeland Security Department to engage in a counter-messaging campaign to fight propaganda from Russia and China. Another $60 million was left available for the subsequent fiscal year.

Tillerson is reported to have wasted seven months deciding whether to spend the money and then, after requesting a transfer, another five months in disputes with the Pentagon over how much money it could have. On Monday, the Pentagon finally decided that it would give the State Department $40 million to do its job.

Another dimension to this issue is that Tillerson himself has expressed skepticism about whether the State Department should even try to stop Russian meddling attempts.

"If it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that. And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it," Tillerson told Fox News in February.

Tillerson's selection to be Trump's secretary of state was controversial from the beginning. The former ExxonMobil executive once bragged about his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and orchestrated a $500 billion deal with a Russian state-subsidized oil company named Rosneft in 2011. He has also been heavily criticized for leaving the State Department debilitatingly understaffed. Earlier this week, it came out that Tillerson may have been chosen to run the State Department over more qualified candidates like Mitt Romney, because Russia wanted someone who would support them in controversial matters like their invasion of Ukraine.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Rex Tillerson Russia State Department