Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended an off-the-books sit-down meeting with a conservative group that included a small number of wealthy Republican donors, which was not on his official schedule while he was in London to attend this week’s NATO Summit.
The gathering, hosted by the Hamilton Society, conveniently took place in the hotel where Pompeo was staying, situated in a small events space on the second floor. Pompeo slipped into the meeting, without the State Department alerting the press traveling with him about where he was headed or who he was going to meet.
CNN reviewed a copy of the meeting invitation and spoke to multiple people who attended. The Hamilton Society is a group of right-leaning American and British business professionals who often invite guest speakers to meet them.
The news that he made time to meet with the donors after a busy day visiting with world leaders only serves to heighten speculation that Pompeo may be eyeing a run for the Senate in Kansas next year and as he has become further embroiled in the Ukraine impeachment inquiry.
The few dozen attendees had to leave their cellphones outside of the room for the evening, to ensure that nothing Pompeo said would be recorded, two attendees said. Though they made clear that Pompeo had no reason to believe he was walking into a contentious conversation.
“Everyone is right of center, so it was a safe space,” said one attendee. Pompeo was “very chatty, casual, and entertaining,” the attendee said. He also showed off his witty side, a welcome surprise to the small crowd.
The topic of Pompeo’s possible political ambitions did not come up on Monday night but everyone was talking about them after he departed, explained one attendee.
Pompeo arrived at the meeting just in time for dessert and stayed for over an hour, according to the two attendees. Pompeo had spent the early part of the evening at receptions with world leaders at Buckingham Palace and Lancaster House.
The State Department did not reply to a request for comment on Pompeo’s visit with the Hamilton Society.
President Donald Trump also made time to attend a political event when he was in the British capital, but his was on the official White House schedule.
The White House billed the fundraiser, which was closed to the press, as “a roundtable with supporters” and a Republican source familiar with the event’s plans tells CNN that the fundraiser was hosted by Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee run by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign.
A Trump campaign official said the event was expected to raise $3 million.
On Wednesday morning Pompeo was back to his formal diplomatic duties – setting off for Portugal and Morocco.
Impeachment report implicated Pompeo
While he was overseas, the House Intelligence Committee produced their impeachment report suggesting Pompeo was involved in an effort to extract information from Ukraine which would politically benefit Trump. Pompeo, who has called the impeachment inquiry Washington chatter, rejected the accusations on Thursday.
“I’ll answer only this, it’s just all wrong,” Pompeo said without elaborating further.
Pompeo has maintained his existing ties to the Republican Party – and its donors – while he has been secretary of state. He has also made new inroads, meeting with well-known GOP donors in New York City who he did not have ties to before becoming Trump’s top diplomat and making time to keep a close relationship to the Koch network which he established in Kansas.
Last month Trump signaled, for the first time, that he would give Pompeo an opportunity to dash back to Kansas if it benefited the Republican party. He reiterated that sentiment in London.
“He’s a tremendous guy, doing a tremendous job,” Trump said. “You can never find anybody that can do a better job as secretary of state, but if we thought we were going to lose that, I would have a talk with Mike.”
Pompeo has long maintained that he will stay in his job as long at Trump wants him to. Just this week, sitting alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has said he wants Pompeo to jump into the race, Pompeo called reports that he is preparing to make a run “completely false.”
Reverse on Russian meddling
As he courts his party, Pompeo has reversed his stance on Russian meddling in the 2016 election, embracing the President’s position and putting him more in tune with the Republican politics.
Last week Pompeo leaned into the debunked theory promoted by Trump that Ukraine interfered in the election.
“Any time there is information that indicates that any country has messed with American elections we not only have a right but a duty to make sure we chase that down,” Pompeo told reporters.
Unlike Fiona Hill – Trump’s former top Russia expert on the National Security Council who testified before Congress last month calling the Ukraine theory a “fictional narrative” – Pompeo chose not to shut down the debunked theory, or close the door on any politically motivated investigations
He took a very different stance in 2017 as CIA director, making an unequivocal declaration that Russia was to blame for hacking Democratic National Committee emails.
“In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee,” he told a crowd during a speech in Washington.
In 2018 Pompeo went as far as to say that Trump had a “complete and proper” understanding of what Russia did in 2016, and claimed Trump was in agreement with the intelligence community.
“President Trump has stated that he accepts our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election,” Pompeo told lawmakers during a hearing in 2018. “I know, I briefed him on it for over a year.”
CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.