When nominees come to the Senate for confirmation hearings, they can expect a number of silly questions, but this one from Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) is worth special note. Bear in mind that Mike Pompeo, currently director of the CIA, has been appointed to be Secretary of State rather than, say, Attorney General. Coons asked whether Pompeo would feel obligated to resign in protest if Donald Trump fired Robert Mueller.
Pompeo seems less obsessed about this potentiality than Coons:
Asked if he would resign if Pres. Trump interfered with special counsel Mueller's probe, "I haven't given that question any thought. My instincts tell me no." https://t.co/sYJgkDU78v pic.twitter.com/8jUQtD007C
— ABC News (@ABC) April 12, 2018
Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo says he’s confident he wouldn’t resign if President Donald Trump moved to halt or interfere in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that he hasn’t given the matter any thought. But he said he is sure he would follow the lead of previous secretaries of state who “stayed the course” during great domestic political turmoil.
He appeared to be referring to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who remained in his job after President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 over the Watergate scandal.
Er … yeah. Would Congress want all of Trump’s Cabinet to walk off the job? Maybe some would, but it would hardly be beneficial to the country. As Pompeo explains with a considerable amount of diplomatic skill, the last thing the country would need in the event of a constitutional crisis at home would be a vacuum in the State Department, except perhaps a vacuum at the Secretary of Defense position. The nation would need to demonstrate extraordinary stability in its nat-sec positions in the unlikely event of such a domestic meltdown.
That’s not to say that questions about Mueller are entirely irrelevant to Pompeo, however. The issue of Russian interference and Russian aggression in general will be a high priority for the next Secretary of State. Pompeo blamed Russia for both, telling the panel that Vladimir Putin had not yet “received the message” from the US crackdown on Moscow. The onus for worsening relations, Pompeo told Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-NH), is on Putin and not the special counsel. Otherwise, Pompeo refused to comment on the investigation, and disclosed that he’d been interviewed by Mueller in it:
Questioned by the committee’s top Democrat, Pompeo also said publicly for the first time that he’s been questioned by Mueller, who is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, as well as possible obstruction of justice issues. Pompeo said Mueller’s team requested an interview, although he declined to answer questions about the contents of his interview.
“I cooperated,” Pompeo said. He rebuffed other questions from Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey concerning conversations he might have had with Trump about FBI Director James Comey before Trump fired Comey.
Overall, Pompeo performed as expected for someone with as much experience in Congress as the former House Intelligence chair has. also pledged to fill the many empty slots at State, telling the panel that he wants to restore confidence within State. That cuts against Trump’s efforts to use attrition to erode the bureaucracy, and it’s not the only point in which Pompeo and Trump may not be on the same page. He also insisted that he wants to fix the Iran nuclear deal rather than end it, the same position that got Tillerson crosswise with Trump. Hmmmm.
This exchange with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) seems pretty typical of the less-friendly questioning Pompeo faced:
Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo says that bolstering the Iran nuclear deal will be a priority if he’s confirmed by the Senate.
There is one month to go until a May 12 deadline that President Donald Trump set to either address what he calls flaws in the 2015 agreement, or withdraw from it. Pompeo said Thursday that fixing the deal is in America’s best interest.
Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that if the deal can’t be fixed and Trump withdraws, he will still advocate for a tougher accord.
So far Pompeo has navigated the waters expertly, but it may not matter. Rand Paul has already declared his opposition to Pompeo, and unless Republicans can get a Democrat or two to flip in Pompeo’s favor, the committee might end up not endorsing his nomination or even recommending against it. That won’t stop Mitch McConnell from holding a floor vote, but it’s going to be touch and go with John McCain still out. Republicans have to get to 50 to make Mike Pence matter, and right now they’re stuck at 49 at best.