CIA Director Mike Pompeo told senators Thursday at his confirmation hearing for secretary of State that he vows to promote democracy and end the “demoralizing” vacancies at the State Department.
“If we do not lead the calls for democracy, prosperity and human rights around the world, who will?” Pompeo said during his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “No other nation is equipped with the same blend of power and principle.”
Pompeo, a former Republican Congressman from Kansas with a reputation for a hawkish approach to American security, has been a lightning rod for criticism from rights advocates and some Democrats who worry he’ll lead the president into war.
Protesters interrupted the start of Pompeo’s hearing in the Senate, chanting, “No Pompeo” and “No more war.”
In addressing his hawkish reputation, Pompeo said, “War is the last resort … and I know I work for a president who feels the same.”
“The U.S. needs a military balance of power but “the best outcome are always won at the diplomatic table. … Diplomacy gives us a chance to achieve what we want peacefully,” he added.
President Trump is in the process of deciding how to respond to an alleged chemical attack in Syria that has been blamed on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who Russia has pledged to protect. Trump taunted Russia Wednesday, saying on Twitter that missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’”
Pompeo also harshly criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s aggression toward the West.
Pompeo said he would take the Russian leader “at his word” that he thinks the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union, something Putin said in 2005.
“If you believe that, (Putin’s) goal is to regain and maintain his power … to maintain not only his capability, his enormous nuclear arsenal, but also to maintain the perception that he has that,” Pompeo said. In addition, he wants to undermine the U.S. in multiple ways and in different areas of the world, from the Middle East to eastern Europe and Latin America, he said.
“We need to push back in each place that we confront them,” he said, listing cyber, diplomacy and economic confrontations. “Each of those tools, we need to do our best to make sure (Putin) doesn’t succeed.”
When Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked why the Trump administration has not fully implemented sanctions on Russia passed last summer by Congress, Pompeo said more work needs to be done on sanctions. “Putin hasn’t fully gotten the message,” Pompeo said. “but it’s not just sanctions.”
The U.S. is pressuring Russia in other ways as well, he continued. The Trump administration’s nuclear posture review puts Russia on notice that the U.S. will be modernizing its nuclear arsenal, he said.
Earlier in the hearing, former Senate majority leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas sang Pompeo’s praises before the nominee testified. He listed highlights of Pompeo’s resume: West Point graduate, army veteran, businessman, congressman, father, husband. “All those things add up to the experience he has,” Dole said. “He’s ready to go.”
Pompeo would become the nation’s top diplomat at a time when many of the State Department’s most experienced diplomats have departed in the past year. Many ambassadorships also remain unfilled around the world.
Trump’s first secretary of State, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s efforts to reorganize and streamline the department wound up hollowing out its top ranks, said Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, a professional organization and labor union.
Pompeo said he plans to help State employees feel relevant again and to help them gain resources they need. “When I took over as director (of the CIA) I immediately started a massive restructure,” he said.
“When my team needed additional resources, I asked for them. And the president never hesitated to provide,” he said. At State, “with your help I will do the same thing.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking democrat on the Senate committee, questioned the close relationship Pompeo had developed with Trump as CIA director.
Menendez asked Pompeo if he will “enable President Trump’s worst instincts” or guide him to moderation. “Will be working from crisis to crisis?” Menendez asked. “Will you stand up to President Trump to say ‘no’ or will you be a yes man?”
Menendez also questioned Pompeo’s interactions with special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Pompeo said for the first time publicly that he was questioned by Mueller. “He interviewed me,” he said. “I’ve cooperated with both investigations, he said referring to Mueller’s and the investigation by Congress.
Pushed by Menendez to detail what he told Mueller and other investigators, Pompeo demurred. “As long as these investigations continue I will not speak about the conversations I’ve had,” he said.
Menendez responded that Pompeo appeared to not be as candid as he would expect. “Your unwillingness to speak to this is troubling,” Menendez said.
On North Korea, Pompeo said, “We have a responsibility to make sure Kim does not threaten the United States of America with a nuclear weapon.”
Trump is preparing for a proposed summit in May with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss the North’s nuclear weapons program, which Kim has repeatedly said is aimed at deterring a U.S. threat.
Pompeo underscored that he had never advocated for a regime change to remove Kim. “I am not advocating for regime change,” he said.
Trump is also poised to decide in May on whether to kill or stick with the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.
Pompeo said Trump told Secretary Tillerson “his goal is to take the three shortcomings (of the Iran nuclear deal) and fix them.”
Trump has said he wants France, Germany and Britain to work on a framework that will address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the expiration date on certain aspects of the deal and to insist that Iran allow inspections of military sites. If that doesn’t happen by May 12 – the next deadline for Trump to certify that Iran is complying with the deal – the president will pull out of the deal but keep working toward those outcomes, Pompeo said. “There will be a lot of work to do after May 12,” he said.
Pompeo has opposed the Iran agreement, which limited nuclear activities for a time, while lifting international sanctions. A year after it was signed, he wrote that while the deal prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons for a few years, provisions in the deal that allow Iran to produce nuclear fuel on an industrial-scale in the future means that eventually it will be able to develop those weapons.
Source: Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
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