At a no holds barred Senate hearing July 30th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mounted a slavish defense of President Trump. Basically, Pompeo defended the indefensible. Senators raked him over the coals, during this rare occasion when Pompeo deigned to face Congress – he has not been there since February — about a wide range of foreign affairs failings.
The faulty Trump Administration policies thrown at Pompeo ranged from letting so many key posts go unfilled that he had, in pre-hearing Senate report, “decimated and demoralized” State, to the recalling of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch’ totally unjustified recall in the midst of Trump’s impeached conspiracies came alive when Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) demanded point blank that he explain (a subject which figured prominently in the House hearings on Trump’s impeachment).
Two subjects generating fireworks warrant the most attention.
The Senators grilled Pompeo about how Trump continues, as to Russia, what Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called out as Pompeo “abetted” Russian President Vladimir Putin. Senators pushed Pompeo about whether he had raised with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, about Russia paying bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
I can say from my trip to the war zone in Afghanistan, as a commissioner on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, that neither the Bush nor Obama administrations would never have let Putin slide on suchlike. In fact, back then, we had an effective alliance in Afghanistan getting Russia to work with us because of the terrible toll Afghan heroin took in Russia.
But Pompeo refused to answer about whether he had specifically raised the allegations of Russian bounties, basically admitting that he had not by airily saying that in general “We’ve made very clear our expectations.” Pompeo said “We are the toughest administration ever on Russia,” which would be fodder for a political cartoonist.
Although Republican Senators largely took a pass, Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) took the gloves off about how the Trump Administration announcing just the day before the hearing to withdraw 12,000 troops from Germany, thereby weakening NATO. Romney not only criticized this decision to pull out, he threw a harsh light on this, explaining that he had heard “from the highest levels of the German government” that the pullout was seen as an insult to a key European ally. That was very effective work by Romney and no doubt will cause Trump to stick some more pins into his Romney voodoo doll.
The other top subject besides Russia was the terminating of the State Department Inspector General, Steve Linick in May. Linick was probing Pompeo’s corrupt misuse of department resources for his personal convenience.
More strategically, Linick had also been probing Pompeo’s effort to push billions of dollars’ worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Pompeo did this in direct contravention of Congress’ strong and bipartisan expressed antagonism to seeing American precision arms used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, not just against civilians there but even against Yemeni hospitals. Congress has moved to block this Trump sale, which is kowtowing to the Saudi rulers who tortured and killed Jamal Khashoggi, journalist for the Washington Post, in Turkey. It is also one of examples where Trump has pushed wrongful arms sales abroad to fatten the American arms dealers and congratulate himself about how he makes great jobs.
Pompeo denied knowing about the investigations of his own alleged corruption, an impressive feat of feigned ignorance. Further, Pompeo said the investigations were not part of his decision to oust Linick. It is hard to imagine that anyone in the hearing credited Pompeo’s pleas of innocence when he must know his axing Linick would be so controversial.
On one level, the hearing must frustrate the public. It has seen Pompeo’s policies bring America in disrepute, which his unpersuasive stances at the hearing included no acceptance of responsibility.
On another level, Congress has seen bad State Department actions, and non-credible defenses, before. As awful as this seems now, as hard as it is to stomach Pompeo’s stance, this too shall pass.