How Mike Pompeo's deplorable turn at the State Department betrays his extreme cowardice
Next to Donald Trump, there may be no White House figure who is so clearly headed to a future of prosecution and shame than Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Yes, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney assembled Trump’s “three amigos” hit squad to go twist arms in Ukraine and was directly responsible for pulling the plug on already approved military assistance. And sure, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was actually on the ground, participating in creating an existential crisis for an allied nation in exchange for lies. Attorney General William Barr had his name literally all over the not-a-transcript of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president. And Mike Pence was … there. But no one else was as deeply involved, and as deeply complicit, in every step of the process as Pompeo.
What the record shows for Mike Pompeo—West Point and Harvard Law School graduate—is simply a staggering, staggering, degree of cowardice. Pompeo was the man in place between the diplomats trying to maintain a semblance of orderly foreign policy in the face of a Trump White House that was flip-flopping madly on the basis of Sean Hannity monologues, what sports figures were refusing to come to the White House on a given day, and Trump’s semi-secret history of failed real estate deals. It was up to Pompeo to maintain vital relationships, protect national security, and reassure allies even as Trump was breaking treaties and tossing his arm around tyrants. And he failed. He failed hard.
Again and again, Pompeo was given the opportunity to salvage both America’s standing in the world and his own dignity. He was approached repeatedly by people on his own staff warning him about the damage being done and the genuinely criminal figures moving against the diplomatic staff. His staff. But rather than stand up for his people, Pompeo refused to help. More than that, he made himself utterly complicit in schemes to defraud the nation, destroy alliances, and demean the people he was supposed to protect.
Donald Trump may be the main villain of the last four years. William Barr may be his most odious henchman. But no one defines utter failure to act in the face of wrongdoing like Mike Pompeo.
As The New York Times reports, the Ukraine scandal is far from the first time Pompeo closed his eyes to the facts rather than confront Trump. As CIA director, he oversaw mountains of evidence around the Russian interference in the 2016 election, including more than a hundred direct connections to the Trump campaign. He even appeared in Senate hearings during and after his confirmation at the CIA to confirm his belief in those events.
But now Pompeo is not just allowing Trump to displace diplomats in order to forward the criminal schemes of Rudy Giuliani and his oligarch-funded “associates,” he’s neck-deep in the claims that Russia was never involved at all. Instead, Pompeo—like Trump, Giuliani, and Barr—is pushing the utterly ludicrous theory that the Russian hackers were only “Russian hackers,” and were actually Ukrainian operatives working in concert with the DNC to fake a break-in.
Pompeo hasn’t just utterly folded to Trump, he’s become one of the people out there actively upholding this conspiracy theory and supporting the idea that it makes sense to hold Ukraine’s feet to the fire, he’s allowed diplomats who looked to him for leadership to be hounded, undercut, disparaged, and forced from positions … all the while he didn’t lift a finger to help them.
The story of Pompeo’s senior adviser Michael McKinley is all too typical. As CNN reports, McKinley testified under oath that he tried at least three times to warn Pompeo that Ambassador Yovanovitch was being attacked unfairly, and that Giuliani was interfering in diplomatic relations with a key European ally. Despite multiple attempts to get Pompeo to act, the secretary of state not only refused to lift a finger, he went on television to say that no one had ever raised the issue. Pompeo did just stand by while Trump ran over good people. He drove the car.
Even when the situation was so bad that his own senior assistant was resigning in protest, Pompeo could not find the common decency to even acknowledge how he had failed his department and the nation. "I spoke with the secretary again when he called from Europe to discuss my resignation," said McKinley. "I was pretty direct. I said, 'You know, this situation isn't acceptable. We need to you know, I've already made my recommendation, but ... I am resigning.' And that was the conversation. Again, I didn't get a reaction on that point."
Donald Trump is the villain. But there is no sorrier figure in this whole mess than Mike Pompeo.