Trump's secretary of state pick faces Senate grilling
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen asked Mike Pompeo if he agreed with President Trump's Wednesday tweet claiming that "much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation."
The tweet in question:
"The historic conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, and now Russia, is caused by Russian bad behavior," Pompeo said.
Sen. Shaheen then asked if he thinks special counsel Mueller's investigation is a witch hunt.
"Ma'am," Pompeo responded, "I'm going to not speak about any of the three investigations that I have been a participant in today."
Asked if Trump has the authority to fire Mueller, Pompeo said he was in "no position" to comment on that.
Marco Rubio asked Mike Pompeo a series of quick questions about his view on the world.
- Do you agree that the U.S. has an obligation to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty? “Yes.”
- WikiLeaks is hostile to the US? “I do believe that.”
- Russia interfered in the 2016 election? “Yes Senator, that’s correct.”
- Promoting Democracy is in the vital national interest of the US? “Yes indeed, Senator.”
Mike Pompeo said he has been interviewed by Robert Mueller, and is cooperating with the special counsel, as CNN has previously reported.
Under aggressive questioning from Sen. Bob Mendendez, Pompeo said Trump never asked him do anything “improper” as it relates to then-FBI Director James Comey’s Russia probe.
However, he declined to say if the President asked him to do anything about the Comey probe and could not “recall” the nature of a March 2017 conversation where Trump reportedly asked Pompeo to get Comey to pull back.
Mike Pompeo, in an exchange with Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, said he would not talk about his private conversations with President Trump. However, he added that the President "has never asked me to do anything that I would consider remotely improper."
Menendez was talking about a June 2017 Washington Post article, which reported that "top intelligence official told associates Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey on FBI Russia probe."
The Post alleged Trump had asked everyone to leave the room after a briefing — except for Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Mike Pompeo — and complained about the FBI’s Russia investigation and then-Director James Comey.
Mike Pompeo just thanked "every living former secretary of state" for taking his call, which would presumably include everyone from John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, who served under President Barack Obama, to James Baker, who served as secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, and George P. Shultz, who served for six and a half years under President Ronald Reagan.
A personal thanks also to every living former Secretary of State. They each took my call. They found time to spend with -- I actually talked to many of them multiple times. Democrats and Republicans, from Secretary Kissinger to Secretary Kerry, were kind enough to visit with me and share with me their thoughts on how, if I'm confirmed, I would be most likely to be a successful secretary of state.
Excerpts from Mike Pompeo’s opening statement before before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were released Wednesday.
Here's what Pompeo is expected to say:
On working with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
“Should I be confirmed, the regular contact we’ve established throughout this process will continue. I’ll do my best to pick up your calls on the first ring, and I’ll be a regular visitor to the Capitol. Your counsel and support will, if I’m confirmed, be critical to my leadership of the Department of State.”
On being labeled a “Hawk”:
“I know firsthand the painful sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. So when journalists, most of whom have never met me, label me—or any of you—as “hawks,” “war hardliners,” or worse, I shake my head. There are few who dread war more than those of us who have served in uniform. And there is a great deal of room between a military presence and war. War is always the last resort. I would prefer achieving the President’s foreign policy goals with unrelenting diplomacy rather than by sending young men and women to war.
On diplomatic efforts for North Korea:
“First, diplomatic efforts are underway to rid the world of a nuclear North Korea. There is no higher diplomatic task for the State Department team than solving this decades-in-the-making threat to our nation. The stakes are high for everyone, but I believe them to be the highest for the North Korean regime. The State Department has successfully rallied the world to cut ties and impose sanctions that have had a profound impact. But there is much diplomatic work left to do, including supporting the President’s intent to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. That meeting will take place against a backdrop of commitment by our President to achieve denuclearization and prevent America from being held at risk by a North Korean arsenal of nuclear weapons. I have read the CIA histories of previous negotiations with the North Koreans, and am confident that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. President Trump isn’t one to play games at the negotiating table—and I won’t be either.
On Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action:
“Iran, meanwhile, has been on the march and has paid too low a price for its dangerous behavior. Our administration has developed a strategy to counter Iran that will raise that cost. The issues surrounding Iran’s proliferation threat are real and we, along with our allies, must deal with the long-term risk that its capability presents. But we cannot let the nuclear file prevent us from acting against Iran’s cyber efforts or its attempts to provide missiles to the Houthis to attack Saudi Arabia and Americans who travel there. Iran’s activities in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon threaten the very existence of Israel, and the global reach of Hezbollah threatens us right here in the homeland. Iran freed American hostages for the sake of a deal and then turned immediately to holding still more. I will work for their freedom every day. President Trump is prepared to work with our partners to revise the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to fix its most egregious flaws. If confirmed, it will be an immediate personal priority to work with those partners to see if such a fix is achievable. The stakes are high for everyone, but especially Tehran. If confirmed in time, I look forward to engaging key Allies on this crucial and time-sensitive topic at the G7 Ministerial Meeting on April 22 and the NATO Ministerial Meeting later that week.”
On Russia's actions:
“Next, Russia continues to act aggressively, enabled by years of soft policy toward that aggression. That’s now over. The list of this administration’s actions to raise the cost for Vladimir Putin is long. We are rebuilding our already strong military and recapitalizing our nuclear deterrent. We have imposed tough sanctions and expelled more Russian diplomats and intelligence officers from the U.S. than at any time since the Cold War. We are arming brave young men and women resisting Russian expansionism in Ukraine and Georgia. This list is much longer, and I’m confident I’ll have the opportunity to add to it today. But the actions of this administration make clear that President Trump’s national security strategy, rightfully, has identified Russia as a danger to our country. Our diplomatic efforts with Russia will prove challenging, but as in previous confrontations with Moscow, must continue.”
“Even while America has reestablished a position of strength in our diplomatic relationship, China continues its concerted and coordinated effort to compete with the United States in diplomatic, military, and economic terms. For years, through IP theft and coercive technology transfer, China has exploited weak U.S. trade policy and leeched wealth and secrets from our economy. Militarily, it continues its provocation in the South and East China Seas, in cyberspace, and even in outer space. This administration is determined to work diplomatically with the Chinese government in an effort to develop a more productive bilateral partnership. We have been pleased with China’s support of our efforts to apply pressure on the North Korean regime, but it must do more. The State Department must be at the center of formulating and executing our China policy.”
Chairman Bob Corker just noted the concern in some circles that Mike Pompeo’s good relationship with President Trump could hint at an overly deferential dynamic.
"Many strong voices have been terminated or resigned," Corker said. "That's why I think it’s fair for members to ask whether your relationship is routed ask if relationship is routed in a candid, healthy, give-and-take dynamic, or whether its based on deferential willingness to go along to get along.
A protester, who says she is a veteran and former US diplomat, was just escorted from the hearing after yelling about Mike Pompeo, “This man is no diplomat!”
She, too, appeared to be with Code Pink.
United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is at Mike Pompeo's hearing, about three rows back from the witness table.