On the defensive, Sec of State Pompeo struggles with basic questions

Updated

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, caught up in Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal, sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos yesterday, presumably to push back against the intensifying controversy. In hindsight, that may not have been a good idea.

When the host asked the secretary of State, for example, whether it’s appropriate for the administration to condition military aid to a vulnerable ally on a political scheme, Pompeo replied, “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.”

The problem, of course, is that there’s nothing “hypothetical” about this. It was just four days ago when the White House publicly acknowledged the scheme.

Viewers were also treated to this gem:

STEPHANOPOULOS: [W]e do know that so much of – and this is by his own admission – that so much of this activity [in Ukraine] was being carried out by the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Was he acting with your blessing and supervision?

POMPEO: George, I have had one consistent policy as the secretary of state, to not talk about internal deliberations inside the administration.

But therein lies the rub: Giuliani wasn’t part of the administration.

There was also this exchange about former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch:

STEPHANOPOULOS: She testified and she put out this testimony that in late April she met with the Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, who told her she was being removed even though she did nothing wrong. That’s a quote. Why did you approve the removal of an ambassador who had done nothing wrong?

POMPEO: George, again, I’m not going to get into personnel matters inside the State Department.

That might be more compelling if Pompeo hadn’t already told the public that Yovanovitch left her post for family reasons – a comment on “personnel matters inside the State Department” that turned out to be false.

The rest of the interview wasn’t much better. When the cabinet secretary wasn’t dodging key questions, he was taking cheap shots at veteran State Department officials like Bill Burns. Pompeo’s entire ABC News appearance seemed designed to make Donald Trump happy, which was very likely the rationale for agreeing to sit down for the interview in the first place.

But the fact remains that the State Department is reeling under Pompeo’s leadership. Key officials are resigning. There was even a recent controversy surrounding career officials facing political retribution based on their perceived fealty to Donald Trump. The Associated Press had this report two weeks ago …

The State Department has been deeply shaken by the rapidly escalating impeachment inquiry, as revelations that President Donald Trump enlisted diplomats to dig up dirt on a political rival threaten to tarnish its reputation as a nonpartisan arm of U.S. foreign policy, former senior officials say.

A department where morale was already low under a president who, at times, has seemed hostile to its mission is now reeling from days of disclosures that place it at the center of an escalating political scandal, according to former diplomats who fear that the turmoil will damage American foreign policy objectives around the world.

… and by most measures, conditions are worse now.

It’s against this backdrop that Pompeo, up to his neck in Trump’s scandal, couldn’t answer questions from WSMV’s Nancy Amon on Oct. 11, and he wasn’t much better with George Stephanopoulos nine days later.

Is it any wonder some observers are calling for the secretary of State’s resignation?