Early in Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing as Secretary of State on Thursday, this exchange happened between the current CIA director and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez regarding a reported meeting in March 2017 between President Donald Trump, Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats:
Menendez: “What did President Trump say to you and Director Coats in that meeting?
Pompeo: Senator, I’m not gonna talk about the conversations with the President I had. I think – I think it’s in this setting appropriate for a President to have an opportunity to talk with his senior leaders. I’ll do that throughout the day. But I will tell you this, the article’s suggestion that he asked me to do anything that was improper is false.
Menendez: Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?
Pompeo: Senator, I don’t recall I don’t recall what he asked me that day precisely, but I have to tell you, I’m with the president an awful lot. He’s never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.”
The meeting in question came on March 22, 2017. Here’s how Adam Entous described it in the Washington Post:
On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and [then FBI Director James] Comey’s handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.
Whether or not Pompeo wants to talk about that meeting – and what was said in it – is one thing. (He didn’t invoke executive privilege in not discussing the details, he simply said he wouldn’t talk about it.)
But, wrapped up in Pompeo’s answer is a classic Washington case of having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too-ism.
Pompeo first says that he did not “recall” whether or not Trump asked him about the probe being led by Mueller. “I don’t recall what he asked me that day precisely,” Pompeo said.
But then, in the next sentence(!), Pompeo added this: “I’m with the President and awful lot [and] he’s never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper.”
If Pompeo can’t recall the nature/contents of that March meeting, how is he somehow able to commit – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that Trump had never asked him to do anything “remotely improper.”
That’s like saying “I am certain I have never left my house for the last three days” but also noting that “I can’t recall what I did on Wednesday night.” You can’t simultaneously have total recall that you have never been asked something and be uncertain about a certain conversation in which you might have been asked something.
Pompeo is willing to live with that obvious contradiction because a) he’s not going to talk about what happened in that March 2017 meeting and b) he’s not going to leave any string out there that might suggest he had been asked to do something by Trump that would suggest improper conduct.
Which, OK, I guess. But let’s not pretend that the answer he gave to Menendez makes sense. Because it doesn’t.