As Impeachment Inquiry Moves Forward, Questions Around Pompeo Continue To Swirl The questions surrounding what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo knew about the Ukraine affair reflect the outsized role he has assumed as one of the president's most influential advisers.
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As Impeachment Inquiry Moves Forward, Questions Around Pompeo Continue To Swirl

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As Impeachment Inquiry Moves Forward, Questions Around Pompeo Continue To Swirl

As Impeachment Inquiry Moves Forward, Questions Around Pompeo Continue To Swirl

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What did Mike Pompeo know, and when did he know it? Questions turn (ph) around the secretary of state in the impeachment investigations. Did he know, as witnesses testified, that President Trump demanded political favors from Ukraine before he would release the military aid approved by the U.S. Congress? Why did he take days to reveal he was on the line during that July 25 phone call between President Trump and President Zelenskiy? Does he really believe Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections? He's a West Point man who said during the 2016 Republican primaries...

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MIKE POMPEO: You know, Donald Trump the other day said that, quote, "If he tells a soldier to commit a war crime, the soldier will just go do it." He said, "They'll do as I tell them to do." We've spent 7 1/2 years with an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution. We don't need four more years of that.

SIMON: How did that man become one of President Trump's most vociferous champions? When Mike Pompeo was nominated for secretary of state, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas told the Senate...

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TOM COTTON: When Mike Pompeo speaks, the world will know the secretary of state speaks for the president.

SIMON: Peter Roskam is a former Republican congressman from Illinois who served in the House with Mike Pompeo.

PETER ROSKAM: I think he's got incredible intellectual capacity and the ability to take in a lot of information and operate well in a collegial environment. And he's not a hand-wringer, and he's not a cowboy.

SIMON: Mike Pompeo grew up in Orange County, Calif., finished first in his 1986 West Point class. He was a platoon leader of a U.S. Infantry Division in Germany, an editor of The Harvard Law Review, then joined a prestigious Washington, D.C., law firm, which he left in 1997 to head for Kansas and open an aircraft parts manufacturing firm with three West Point classmates, Koch Industries. The Koch brothers, major Republican donors, invested in the company, which Mike Pompeo left to run for Congress in 2010.

JIM MCLEAN: The Koch brothers really got politically active what he was getting into politics.

SIMON: Jim McLean, managing director of public radio's Kansas News Service, says Pompeo's career began to rise with the House hearings into the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi.

MCLEAN: He was pretty much a nonentity, politically speaking, on the national scene up to that point. And frankly, he was overshadowed even here in Kansas politically. But in those Benghazi hearings, you know, he really did take on a lead role as inquisitor. And there was, you know, some very famous confrontations with Hillary Clinton during those hearings.

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POMPEO: Were you aware that our folks were either wittingly or unwittingly meeting with Al-Qaida on the ground in Benghazi, Libya, just hours before the attack.

HILLARY CLINTON: I know nothing about this, Congressman.

POMPEO: I think that's deeply disturbing. I think the fact that your team was meeting...

CLINTON: I'm sorry. Which team is this is, Mr...

POMPEO: ...It would have been...

NANCY MCELDOWNEY: It was a personal tragedy. It was a political tragedy, but it did not have to become the kind of domestic controversy that it was turned into by none other than Mike Pompeo and Jim Jordan.

SIMON: Nancy McEldowney was a career diplomat and director of the Foreign Service Institute, who now teaches at Georgetown.

MCELDOWNEY: They refused to join the consensus with the congressional investigatory committee and wrote their own addendum. And there are some very important words that they used in this report that I think - it's worth remembering. They talked about a State Department seemingly more concerned with politics than protecting its own people.

SIMON: When President Trump came into office, he appointed Mike Pompeo director of the CIA. And he often personally delivered the daily security briefing to the president. Ambassador McEldowney says many State Department officers were heartened when Mike Pompeo replaced the highly unpopular Rex Tillerson.

MCELDOWNEY: People thought at least his close relationship with the president and his experience as a military officer would help his leadership of the State Department. So initially there was a positive feeling, a hopefulness that Pompeo would turn around the disruption of the Tillerson time.

SIMON: There are critical questions about how Secretary Pompeo disclosed that he was on the line for President Trump's phone conversation with Ukraine's President Zelenskiy on July 25. Congress had approved military aid for Ukraine, but the money hadn't been released. President Trump told Ukraine's president, I would like you to do us a favor, though. When Secretary Pompeo was asked by reporters about the call that set off the whistleblower's report, he told them...

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POMPEO: So, Matt, I haven't had a chance to actually read the whistleblower complaint yet. I read the first couple of paragraphs and then got busy today. But I'll ultimately get a chance to see it. If I understand it right, it's from someone who had second-hand knowledge.

SIMON: And it wasn't for almost a week until he acknowledged.

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POMPEO: As for, was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call.

SIMON: Former Congressman Peter Roskam says he doesn't believe Mike Pompeo deceived the public.

ROSKAM: No, I'm convinced that he was forthright and direct with the American public. And he's been forthright and direct, I think, at every turn up and down.

SIMON: Well, wasn't there that week when he sort of just evaded the question with reporters?

ROSKAM: Yeah, but that's different than deception. And I think that there is an ability to communicate in ways that are effective and impactful and timing. But I think it would - his communications would pass the threshold - and honorable under any standard.

SIMON: Questions have also been raised about why the secretary of state didn't defend U.S. diplomats from political attack - as exemplified by President Trump's ridicule of Marie Yovanovitch, who was relieved of her post in Ukraine.

Nancy McEldowney, the former ambassador who's now at Georgetown, says...

MCELDOWNEY: He allowed Yovanovitch to be - first be smeared and then to be fired. He did not stop that. And that has had such a poisonous impact on other diplomats throughout the service.

SIMON: What about the argument, Ambassador, that, you know, in the end, the president gets to set foreign policy. And if he decides to hold up aid to Ukraine, he can do it. If he decides to relieve an ambassador, he can do it.

MCELDOWNEY: That's exactly right. But there's one element that you don't touch on there that is the key missing thing. It's one thing to have powers that you can execute. It's another to abuse them.

SIMON: Impeachment hearings could lead to a Senate trial, where Democrats will want Secretary Pompeo to testify. He was one person who may have been deeply involved in all aspects of President Trump's approach to Ukraine.

Susan Glasser of The New Yorker says that lawmakers will want to ask Mike Pompeo...

SUSAN GLASSER: What did he know about the withholding of nearly $400 million in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine? When did he know it? What direct conversations, if any, did he have with the president? Rudy Giuliani says that everything he did was carried out with the knowledge of the State Department. Is that, in fact, the case? I mean, I could go on (laughter).

SIMON: But even as Secretary Pompeo has not testified in Congress about the controversy over U.S. aid to Ukraine, he's made time to do interviews with local Kansas media. His fans' speculation that - before any impeachment trial begins, Mike Pompeo may plan to leave Washington, D.C., as he has before and run for the Senate in Kansas. Jim McLean of the Kansas News Service says impeachment, Ukraine and quid pro quo could sound a long way off.

MCLEAN: The initial stories that have been written about how Kansans would view Pompeo's alleged role in whatever took place relative to Ukraine and the cover-up and all those issues. So far, at least, people seem to say, well, you know, that's what's happening in D.C., and I'm - nobody's really sure to what extent that would affect a candidacy here in Kansas.

SIMON: Just this week at the NATO summit, President Trump told reporters he might ask his secretary of state to return to Kansas to try to win a seat that would help Republicans keep control of the U.S. Senate.

Susan Glasser of The New Yorker points out Mike Pompeo is tied his political fortunes to Donald Trump, and he has to hold on tight.

GLASSER: His power and his currency comes from being as close as he can - allied with Trump and his policy preferences. And Pompeo has really defined himself as there never, ever being any daylight between himself and Trump.

SIMON: But it's precisely Mike Pompeo's closeness to this president that makes him a crucial figure in the investigations and impeachment to come.

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