Former Colleagues Question Rick Saccone’s North Korea Diplomat Claims

According to a career foreign service officer, Rick Saccone, the GOP candidate for Congress in the upcoming PA 18th District special election, stretched the truth when he called himself a diplomat in a campaign ad. David Lambertson, former ambassador to Thailand also denied that Saccone was the only American working in North Korea at the time as Saccone claims on his website. Lambertson said that two others were involved, including himself, and that very little negotiating occurred.
The March 13 contest in PA’s 18th District between Saccone and Conor Lamb is being closely watched around the nation. Donald Trump won the district by 20 points in the presidential election, but currently Republican Saccone is up by only three points over Democrat Conor Lamb in a recent Monmouth University poll.
Saccone’s ads tout his military and foreign affairs service over the youthful Lamb, a former prosecutor. Saccone has long been interested in the Korean peninsula, spending many years in South Korea. He also spent some time in North Korea which formed the basis for the claims now being scrutinized.
In a campaign television ad, Saccone says he was “a diplomat in North Korea.”

On his website, Saccone claims:

His experience also includes being the only United States citizen living in North Korea that negotiated with the North Korean regime on a daily basis.

The claim has been repeated in press reports (see also here, here) like this one from the Washington Examiner:

And during the George W. Bush administration, he held the distinction of having served as a diplomat to North Korea from 2000 to 2001 and was the only U.S. citizen living in Pyongyang at the time.

A Diplomat?

At the time, contact between North Korea and the U.S. was limited. President Clinton signed the Agreed Framework in 1994 which called for a nuclear power plant to be built in exchange for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The organization formed to support the construction of the power plant was called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). According to one of his books on North Korea, Saccone was given a job of representing the U.S. on site. He portrays the position as an exclusive one beginning in December 2000 with no other American presence. He said David Lambertson welcomed him to North Korea. In Living with the Enemy: Inside North Korea, Saccone wrote:

Suddenly I was headed North as a representative for an international organization building a nuclear power plant on the east coast, north of Hamheung, in an isolated region known as Geumho. The lone American at the site, along with one Japanese and about 800 South Koreans.
KEDO was formed as a key element of the Agreed Framework signed during the Clinton administration. Under this international agreement, the North agreed to shut down its nuclear program in exchange for two 1000 megawatt Light Water Reactor power plants built by a U.S. led consortium consisting primarily of American, South Korean, Japanese, and later European Union participation.

Regarding the claim of being a diplomat, I asked another former KEDO representative and former ambassador to Thailand David Lambertson for his perspective. Lambertson told me that he worked for KEDO on a part-time basis for five years and during that time visited North Korea a dozen times. Altogether he spent “a total of a year and a half there.” He said Saccone visited the North “two or three trips maximum.”  Because the Agreed Framework with North Korea required an American presence, someone rotated in and out of North Korea about every month or six weeks. He said, “When Saccone did it there were three of us, and then later on just two.” He said Spence Richardson replaced Saccone after a month to six weeks. “Saccone was most certainly not there for a year.”
About the claim to be a diplomat, Lamberson said,

As to whether Saccone was a “diplomat” in North Korea, I suppose that depends on one’s definition of the term.  We occasionally had to work out solutions to problems that arose at the work site (a nuclear power plant was being constructed), but it was rare that the American’s role rose to the level of “negotiator.”  Most of the negotiating took place in periodic meetings in which senior representatives of KEDO headquarters in New York came to the work site or to Pyongyang for discussions with the North Koreans.  I participated in numerous such meetings, but only in a support role.
All in all, I’d say that if Saccone is claiming to have been a “diplomat” in North Korea, he is stretching the facts just a bit.  Politicians are known to do that.

Lambertson’s account also contradicts Saccone’s website claim that he was the “only United States citizen living in North Korea that negotiated with the North Korean regime on a daily basis.” According to Lambertson, negotiations weren’t frequent and he and Richardson spent most of the time there. None of the KEDO annual reports refer to the American on the ground as a diplomat.
I also spoke by phone with Desaix Anderson who was the Executive Director of KEDO at the time Saccone was hired. Anderson, who was Executive Director from 1997 through mid-2001, did not recall Saccone’s involvement with KEDO at all. He remembered Lambertson and Richardson but not Saccone. He referred me to Lambertson for more specifics about what happened on the ground in North Korea.
I reached out to the Saccone campaign via email earlier today but did not receive a response.
Lambertson was appointed ambassador to Thailand by George Bush and served with distinction as did Anderson, who was the first envoy to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam after the U.S. established diplomatic relations. Given their accounts, I hope Saccone will come forward with a correction or explanation for his characterization of himself as a diplomat and as the sole representative for the year 2001 to the North Korean government.

PA's 18th Congressional District Special Election Candidates Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone Square Off in Debate

Conor Lamb (from

Earlier today, Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone met for a debate moderated by KDKA Pittsburgh. The candidates tackled gun control, abortion, Russian interference, tax cuts and their own qualifications.
Saccone has been endorsed by David Barton and is an unabashed supporter of President Trump. Lamb is a moderate Democrat who is new to elective politics. The latest polls have them within 3 points.
In the debate, there was common ground. Both men felt existing gun laws should be enforced. Both men agree that due process is important in allegations of misconduct.
The candidates disagreed about many other matters including medical marijuana – Saccone voted against legalizing medical marijuana in PA. Lamb sides with medical opinion which favors the use of marijuana. Lamb asserted his concern for the deficit while Saccone touted the GOP tax bill.

Saccone’s Record on Draining the Swamp

When asked why voters should support the candidates, Saccone answered:

“I have never been part of the swamp. I have always been there cleaning up the swamp in Harrisburg. Most of my bills have passed unanimously or nearly unanimously,” Saccone said. “I have a record of doing what I say and my opponent has no record. A candidate can say anything he wants. How many times have you been disappointed by people who say they are going to do something, get into office and don’t do it. I’ve actually done what I said and I have the record to prove it.”

The facts don’t fully support this claim. When Saccone ran for U.S. Senate, he portrayed himself as a swamp cleaner. However, according to a report in the Allentown Morning Call, Saccone didn’t miss many opportunities to cash in on his status as a legislator.
As a state rep, Saccone sponsored a bill which prohibits public officials from accepting anything of value including “hospitality” as a gift from someone who wants to do business with the government. However, he does it all the time. According to the Morning Call, he also brings along his wife for the free meals.
Saccone has also billed PA taxpayers for office space owned by a campaign donor. Over his seven years in office, he has spent over $400,000 of tax dollars on expense accounts according to an Intercept report. In contrast to his claim, he has been involved in filling the swamp.

Announcement for Rick Saccone's U.S. Senate Bid Featuring David Barton

I mentioned it before but we have a Wallbuilder in the PA Senate race. Here’s the announcement for the big debut.

It is surreal that doctorate faker Barton still has a significant following. Once upon a time, faking academic credentials was considered a serious problem. Now it doesn’t matter if you support the right candidate.

Fan of David Barton to Run for PA Senate Seat

PA State Rep. Rick Saccone tweeted this announcement on Thursday:

As a GOP state representative, Saccone sponsored a resolution proclaiming 2012 as The Year of the Bible in PA. He is also behind the effort to place the motto In God We Trust on display in PA public schools.

Saccone has an earned PhD from University of Pittsburgh. I wonder how he would feel about Barton if he knew about Barton’s attempt to pass off an honorary degree from a non-accredited diploma mill as an earned doctorate.

Saccone is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Sen. Bob Casey in 2018.