Earlier today we learned that Jill Kelley, the ridiculous person at the center of the Petraeus scandal, had called police over the weekend to shoo people off her lawn and in the process invoked her “diplomatic inviolability” to bewildered police officers. At first I assumed that this was some nonsensical immunity claim to her honorary role as “social liaison” at Centcom in Tampa.
But this was premature.
It turns out that Kelley is actually an “Honorary Consul” of the Republic of Korea (South Korea). At first, I thought this was just another one of Kelley’s ridiculous faux titles, something you get for throwing a party or perhaps for anything as long as the ambassador gets drunk.
But I was too quick to dismiss this. ‘Honorary consuls” are a real thing. Or at least they can be, whatever Kelley was doing with the title. I talked this evening to a diplomat from an Asian nation (not Korea) who explained that they’re often used when a country doesn’t have consular representation in a particular city or region. So for instance if you’re from Country X and you’re visiting Florida and you get into a jam or lose your passport you can contact the ‘Honorary Consul” to help you get a new passport or help you out in much the same way your embassy or an official consul might.
Again, who knows if Kelley was actually doing something like this. (Kelley and her twin sister who is also tied up in the scandal are each in debt for roughly $4 million a piece.) But it’s a real title and even a job of sorts. My source says that the embassy of the foreign country actually has to register these people with the State Department. This page at the British Foreign Office website describes the role. The status is even noted and explained in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Here is the US State Department’s description of Honorary Consuls and the very limited immunity they enjoy in regard to their official acts …
Honorary consuls are American citizens or permanent resident aliens who perform consular services on a part-time basis. Honorary consuls, unlike career consuls, are permitted to carry on another business. These persons have “official acts” immunity only and immunity from the obligation to provide evidence as witnesses only in respect of oi cial acts. They do not enjoy personal inviolability and may be arrested pending trial if circumstances should otherwise warrant. Family members enjoy no immunity or personal inviolability. Honorary consuls are issued oi cial identii cation cards by the Department of State.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.