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As Trump targets pro-democracy projects, Pompeo struggles with math

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday accused reporters of getting their math wrong about Trump's budget. It was he, however, who was confused.
Image: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport, in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, July 7, 2018Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS

Donald Trump's new White House budget slashes investments in all kinds of important areas, and U.S. diplomatic efforts are not spared. As McClatchy News reports, the president has recommended dramatic cuts to funds that promote democracy and human rights, including efforts in Venezuela.

McClatchy quoted one senior administration, who's concerned about the conflicting messages, who said, "There is a huge disconnect between the budget folks and the policy folks. It sends a horrible message to the people in those countries. On the one hand where the president and vice president say they support the people and their struggle for freedom and democracy. And yet that priority is not reflected in the budget."

Congress, of course, will almost certainly ignore the White House's blueprint, but it was nevertheless of interest to see Secretary of State Mike Pompeo try to defend his boss' plan.

In an interview Monday with McClatchy's Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, Pompeo said the administration is working to make sure that the citizens of Venezuela no longer have "to suffer under the tragic conditions that Maduro" has forced on his people. [...]But when pressed why make such drastic cuts at such a critical time, Pompeo pushed back. "You just have your math wrong," he said.The next day, a senior administration official acknowledged the numbers were correct and explained the cuts were part of overall non-defense reductions.

In other words, when Pompeo insisted that reporters' math was wrong, it was he who was confused.

Unfortunately, that's been happening quite a bit lately with the nation's chief diplomat.

In an interview two weeks ago with CNN's Jake Tapper, Pompeo insisted that Trump did not say that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat, despite the fact that the president quite literally argued, in writing, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."

Soon after, Pompeo sat down with USA Today, and was again confused about the details surrounding his own recent efforts.

Pompeo reacted angrily when asked about the North Korean foreign minister's statement, made hours after the talks dissolved, that the offer Kim made in Hanoi was final."That's not what the North Koreans said," Pompeo responded. "Don't say things that aren't true.... Show me the quote from the North Koreans that said this was their one and only offer. Where'd you get that?"After he was read a quote from Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho -- in which he said "our proposal will never be changed" -- Pompeo fell silent for about six seconds.

It's easy to forget, but as recently as three years ago, Mike Pompeo was a relatively obscure Republican congressman from Kansas, best known for his fealty to the Koch brothers. Something about him appealed to the current president, who tapped him to lead the CIA, before asking him to lead the State Department.

As we're occasionally reminded, however, impressing Donald Trump does not necessarily mean one is qualified for powerful government posts.