Morgan Ortagus was sworn in as US State Department spokesperson in April 2019. In that capacity she has been serving as the face of the Trump administration to the world and is responsible for maintaining relationships with international media.
This past year has been particularly challenging for her. Public diplomacy and press briefings have primarily been conducted remotely due to COVID-19, and Ortagus’s boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had to limit his international travel because of the pandemic.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in political science in Florida, Ortagus took part in the political campaigns of Republican candidates in her southern home state.No. 6: On the potential VP's side >>>
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Later, during the Bush administration, she served in the United States Agency for International Development and was posted to Baghdad. She served as a spokesperson for the USAID in 2017, and later worked as an intelligence analyst for the Treasury Department during Barack Obama’s administration.
It was during her posting in Baghdad that she started exploring Judaism, although she was not a Jew at the time.
“I just had a sense of it really touching me in a way that religion had not in a very, very long time,” Ortagus told Jewish Insider in an interview earlier this year.
She told the publication that one religious service she attended was held in a US Army trailer, and that attendees later ate a “kosher-ish” meal at the chow hall. “I don’t think we ever had any challah, but we definitely had some rolls,” she told JI.
Jerusalem Post correspondent Benjamin Weinthal reported on June 6 that Ortagus donned a Star of David necklace during Pompeo’s visit to Berlin, noting that the visit came amid rising antisemitism in Germany.
In her role as an intelligence analyst for the US Treasury she developed experience working on issues dealing with North Africa and the Middle East. Ortagus then moved to Riyadh, where she served as deputy treasury attaché. While in Saudi Arabia she worked “to curb illicit financial flows to and from the kingdom,” according to a CNN report.
Samantha Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst, said of Ortagus, “She spent over a year in Saudi Arabia as the deputy treasury attaché and has a lot of expertise in the Middle East, on countering terrorism finance and intelligence.” During her time in Saudi Arabia, she continued her process of conversion to Judaism in weekly Skype lessons. After her return to Washington, she completed the conversion process at Adas Israel Congregation.
In 2013, she had married Jonathan Ross Weinberger in a ceremony presided over by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington,” as reported by The New York Times.
Weinberger served as White House associate general counsel and executive secretary on trade from 2008 to 2012, and as executive secretary at the Treasury Department from 2003 to 2008.
“That evening, Rabbi Kenneth B. Block led a Jewish ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown,” the official wedding announcement in the press said.
Ortagus spent several years before her work in the private sector, where she focused on risk analysis. She later gained national attention as a contributor and a co-host on Fox News.
When naming her the new State Department spokesperson, Pompeo said, “Morgan brings outstanding credentials and a record of public service to the position. She has worked her entire career in financial services, consulting and diplomacy.” In April, Ortagus tweeted a harsh rebuke of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, calling him a “hypocrite.”
“It’s not surprising that @JZarif, the self-proclaimed ‘human rights professor’ who’s the mouthpiece for #Iran’s violent regime, comes to the US to enjoy the freedoms he denies the Iranian people,” she wrote.
“What is surprising is some people still give this hypocrite the light of day.”