Secretary Of State Pompeo Says Trump Administration Has Worked Hard To Counter Russia

May 23, 2018
Originally published on May 23, 2018 9:52 pm
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Here's some of what's on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's to-do list - plan for what could be a historic summit between the U.S. and North Korea, rebuild a coalition to counter the Iran nuclear deal and rebuild a demoralized State Department. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Pompeo faced tough questions about all of that on Capitol Hill today.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As a former congressman from Kansas, this was familiar territory for Mike Pompeo. But now the tables have turned. A Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks, says it was surprising that Pompeo didn't once mention security, though, when he was a congressman investigating Benghazi, he grilled his predecessor Hillary Clinton about that.

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GREGORY MEEKS: Should we conclude, based upon that fact, that you do not care about diplomatic security, Mr. Secretary - haven't heard it from you, not once.

MIKE POMPEO: No.

KELEMEN: Meeks went further, pointing out that the administration is cutting the budget for the State Department, including for security, leading to a sharp exchange with Pompeo, who says it's not the money that matters.

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POMPEO: We're going to take risks. We're going to be an expeditionary State Department. I think President Trump demands it. I think each of you do as well. But I'll take a backseat to no one with respect to caring about and protecting the people that...

MEEKS: Nor did Hillary Clinton take a backseat to no one for what she did about diplomatic security in this country.

KELEMEN: The politics didn't end there. Pompeo often took digs at the Obama administration, even saying at one point that the Trump administration has been, in his words, light-years better in terms of countering Russia.

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POMPEO: We have not been able to achieve effective deterrence of some of these efforts of the Russians. But this administration has taken enormous efforts to push back against Russia that haven't been done in an awfully long time.

KELEMEN: On Iran, he defended the tough line he's taking. And Pompeo says he's planning to move quickly to fill the many empty positions at the department to carry out this daunting diplomatic agenda. Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel, though, raised another concern about that.

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ELIOT ENGEL: Perhaps most troubling are the allegations from whistleblowers who have reported to this committee that the administration is targeting career employees because of their perceived political beliefs. This is potentially a violation of laws governing State Department personnel. It also strikes at the idea that politics should stop at the water's edge.

KELEMEN: Pompeo told Engel he does not think officials who targeted career employees in this way should be working in his department. Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu was more blunt, asking Pompeo what he thinks about President Trump's tweets about a deep state.

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TED LIEU: Do you believe there is a criminal deep state at the State Department?

POMPEO: I don't - I haven't seen the comments from the president. I don't believe there's a deep state at the State Department.

KELEMEN: Then there were questions about the president's plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Democrat David Cicilline wondered whether this administration is pressing North Korea on human rights, since Pompeo often blamed the Obama administration for ignoring that in the Iran nuclear deal.

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POMPEO: The issue was raised directly between me and Chairman Kim. And it will be part of the discussions as we move forward.

DAVID CICILLINE: Will it be part of the deal? Do you have a commitment from the Kim regime?

POMPEO: We have broad outlines of what it is that each nation is prepared to do.

KELEMEN: Republican Chairman Ed Royce was sounding concerned that the Trump administration might ease up on pressure too quickly, though Pompeo says that's not the case.

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POMPEO: It is my view that we have made zero concessions to Chairman Kim to date. And we have no intention of doing so.

KELEMEN: Secretary Pompeo has met twice with Kim Jong Un to pave the way for a summit with President Trump. Asked whether it will happen, he said that's up to Kim, who asked for the summit in the first place.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.