On July 25, Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, talked on the phone, a call that has become the centerpiece of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the US President. We now know that other top officials were listening in on that call, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Which makes Pompeo’s response to ABC’s Martha Raddatz – when asked directly on September 22 about the whistleblower complaint based, in part, on that call – all the more, uh, interesting. Or, to pick another word: Evasive.
Here’s the exchange:
RADDATZ: And I want to turn to this whistleblower complaint, Mr. Secretary. The complaint involving the President and a phone call with a foreign leader to the director of national intelligence inspector general. That’s where the complaint was launched by the whistle-blower. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Trump pressed the president of Ukraine eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani to investigate Joe Biden’s son. What do you know about those conversations?
POMPEO: So, you just gave me a report about a I.C. whistle-blower complaint, none of which I’ve seen. I can tell you about this administration’s policies with Ukraine. I remember the previous administration was begged – begged by the Ukrainian people to deliver defensive arms, so that they could protect themselves from Vladimir Putin and Russia. And they gave them blankets. This administration took seriously the responsibility of the Ukrainian people. We’ve provided now on multiple occasions resources, so that the – the Ukrainians can defend themselves. We’ve worked on that. We – we’re working – we’ll see President Zelensky this week. We want a good relationship with the Ukrainian people.
Pretty interesting, no? When Raddatz asks Pompeo, “What do you know about those conversations,” he could have very easily responded that he had, in fact, been on the call and felt very comfortable with the way the President conducted himself. He didn’t do that.
Nor did he let on he had been anywhere near the call when Raddatz followed up. Here’s how that went:
RADDATZ: You say you know nothing about this, but let me – let me – let me ask you this question. The Ukrainian presidential readout of the conversation said they discussed – quote – “investigation of corruption cases which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.” The President tweeted Saturday: “It was a perfectly fine and respectful conversation.” Do you think it’s – quote – “perfectly fine” to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent?
POMPEO: I think I saw a statement from the Ukrainian foreign minister yesterday, said there was no pressure applied in the course of the conversation. I do think – I do think, if Vice President Biden behaved inappropriately, if he was protecting his son and intervened with the Ukrainian leadership in a way that was corrupt, I do think we need to get to the bottom of that, Martha. And I – I hope that we will. I hope that, if Vice President Biden engaged in behavior that was inappropriate, I hope the American people will come to learn that. America can’t have…
“I think I saw a statement from the Ukrainian foreign minister.” Dude, you were ON the call!
To be clear: Pompeo didn’t lie to Raddatz. She never asked him directly whether he was on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call. And he never said anything that, in retrospect, was wrong about the call specifically.
But Pompeo was clearly – and purposely – evasive with Raddatz. Why?
Good question! It’s possible that Pompeo was simply being very cautious – not knowing how the White House was planning to play the whistleblower complaint and the nature of the Zelensky call. (Remember that the Ukraine call transcript wasn’t released for several days after this Pompeo interview.) It’s also possible that Pompeo simply didn’t want to give Raddatz any new information, following the age-old politician blueprint of answering only the very specific question asked of you. Or maybe, Pompeo knew that this call – from the day he was on it until the day Raddatz asked him about it – was going to be a problem for Trump, and wanted to keep himself as far away from it as possible.
So what’s the real reason for Pompeo’s concerted evasiveness? Good question – and hopefully some intrepid reporter asks him today!