Live coverage: Pompeo faces grilling on Russia, North Korea

Live coverage: Pompeo faces grilling on Russia, North Korea
© Anna Moneymaker

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBiden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden faces challenges, opportunities in Middle East O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE will be grilled by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday afternoon, in a meeting that is widely expected to focus on President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Pa. lawmaker was informed of positive coronavirus test while meeting with Trump: report MORE’s recent one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Senators are seeking answers on what agreements may have been reached at the controversial meeting and also want information about a prospective second summit between Trump and Putin in Washington. Pompeo will likely be asked questions about Iran and North Korea.


The administration has released only vague information about matters that were discussed in a private one-on-one meeting between Putin and Trump, and the White House has said the only firm agreement brokered was to continue to have an open dialogue. Meanwhile, Moscow has spun its own narrative, with the Russian ambassador claiming the two world leaders reached “important verbal agreements” on issues such as arms control.

It is unclear, however, how much information Pompeo will be able to offer, given that he was not present during Trump’s meeting with Putin.

This is the first time that Pompeo, Trump’s former CIA director, will appear before the committee as secretary of State.

Corker gavels out 

6:07 p.m. 

After about three hours, Corker gaveled out the hearing. Corker did not offer a closing statement.

He did offer Pompeo the opportunity to answer a previous question on efforts on election interference. Pompeo declined, saying he thinks he already had the opportunity to respond adequately.

Corker also reiterated the committee expects him to come back for a classified briefing, to which Pompeo responded that he would try to find the time to do so.

— Rebecca Kheel

Menendez: Trump admin is ‘increasingly not transparent’

6:00 p.m. 

Menendez in his closing remarks accused the Trump administration of not being transparent with Congress, claiming he gleaned little information on the summit in Helsinki during the three-hour hearing. 

“This administration is increasingly not transparent,” Menendez charged. 

“As it relates to North Korea, we have no agreements on anything,” Menendez said, noting the committee still has yet to receive a classified briefing on the summit with Kim Jong Un.

Menendez also said he doesn’t believe Pompeo knows what transpired behind closed doors between Trump and Putin last week.

“I really don’t believe, Mr. Secretary, you know what happened during the president’s two-plus hour conversation with President Putin and I really don’t know much more about the summit after sitting here for three hours than I did before,” Menendez said.

— Morgan Chalfant

Pompeo, Murphy spar over Trump tweets, interviews 

5:43 p.m. 

Pompeo sparred with Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Conn.) over Trump’s tweets and comments in interviews on Russia and NATO, culminating in an argument over former President Obama’s Russia policies. 

Murphy highlighted Trump’s weekend tweets that Russia’s election interference is “all a big hoax,” asking why senators should believe Trump’s earlier acceptance of the intelligence community’s findings over that tweet.

Pompeo replied that he has a list of instances in which Trump confirmed that he understands Russia meddled in the 2016 election and need to push back on it.

“You can draw whatever inferences you want for whatever purposes you so choose,” Pompeo added.

Murphy shot back that “there’s no inference. It’s a statement from the president.”

Pompeo argued that not all statements from the president are U.S. policy, while Murphy argued they are policy because allies and adversaries act off the statements.

Murphy then turned to Trump’s comments to Fox News host Tucker Carlson in which he questioned why the United States has to come to the defense of NATO ally Montenegro.

“Can you understand why we would be concerned that the president would draw a question as to whether we would defend Montenegro?” Murphy asked.

Pompeo held that Trump has been “unambiguously clear,” again arguing that not all statements are policy.

“How do I know the difference?” Murphy asked. 

“Compare the following,” Pompeo replied. “Barrack Obama speaking tough on Russia and doing nothing.”

Murphy interjected to say that’s “not true.” 

“It is true,” Pompeo replied.

“I understand you want to rewrite the Obama policy on Russia, but that’s simply not true. He organized all of Europe and all of the world to put a comprehensive unprecedented set of sanctions on Russia,” Murphy said.

“The man said he would have more flexibility after the election,” Pompeo said, referencing a 2012 comment Obama made to former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev about missile defense that was picked up on a hot mic.

“This isn’t about — I know you want to turn constantly back to President Obama,” Murphy replied, while Pompeo said at the same time, “I just want to look at facts.”

“I’m trying to get to U.S. policy,” he said. “It’s what I do. I’m America’s chief diplomat implementing U.S. policy.”

Murphy replied that, “I think you’ve been dealt a tough hand and you do a credible job with it”

— Rebecca Kheel 

Pompeo: North Korea denuclearization by Trump's first term or 'more quickly'

5:02 p.m. 

Pompeo reaffirmed that the Trump administration is hoping for complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea by the end of Trump’s first term.

“More quickly, if possible,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo has previously said that’s the goal, but the timeline has been muddled by other administration officials’ statements. For example, national security adviser John Bolton earlier this month gave a one-year timeline for a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while days later a State Department spokeswoman said, “We’re not going to provide a timeline for that.”

Pompeo would not answer in an unclassified setting Gardner’s question on whether North Korea is still advancing its nuclear program. But, he pointed to his answer to Markey earlier that North Korea is still producing fissile material.

— Rebecca Kheel

Corker: Trump has created ‘tremendous distrust’ among officials, American public

4:50 p.m. 

Corker charged that Trump’s comments on Russia, NATO and other topics have created “tremendous distrust” among the American people.

“Much of what you’re hearing today has nothing whatsoever to do with you,” Corker said. “It’s the president that causes people to have concerns.”

“For instance, at the Helsinki conference, to create an equivalence between our intelligence agencies and what Putin is saying. That shocks people,” Corker said. 

Corker went on to suggest the comments are part of a broader pattern by the president to make public statements that “purposefully create distrust” in U.S. institutions and actions.

“The notion of even exchanging diplomats, sending diplomats over to be interrogated by Putin? To even think about that, to let that be said as an official statement coming out of the White House, this is my opinion — and I believe it is right — to purposefully cause the American people to misunderstand about the NATO contributions and to cause them to doubt NATO and to really drive public opinion against NATO,” Corker said. 

“That to me was purposeful, and not unlike what happened right after Charlottesville,” Corker said.

Corker pressed Pompeo to explain whether there is any motivation behind the president’s actions. 

Pompeo challenged the idea that Trump’s comments are out of step with the actions of the administration. Trump, he said, has been tough on Russia, pointing to the fact the president himself signed off on sanctions on Moscow last year.

“Somehow there is this idea that this administration is free floating,” Pompeo said. “This is President Trump’s administration. Make no mistake who is fully in charge of this.”

— Morgan Chalfant

Udall redoubles push for Trump tax returns

4:52 p.m.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallFormer Sen. Carol Moseley Braun stumps for Interior post: 'A natural fit for me' Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline MORE (D-N.M.) used his remarks to revive a push for Trump to release his tax returns so that the American people can understand the scope of the president’s past business dealings in Russia. 

Udall charged that many Americans are concerned that Trump could have a “compromising relationship” with a foreign power, and pressed Pompeo on whether he believes the American people should know what is in Trump’s tax returns.

Pompeo declined to answer, saying that doing so would be engaging in “political circus.”

“Candidate Trump has failed to keep his promise to disclose his tax returns,” Udall charged. “The situation with President Trump’s potential foreign policy conflicts of interest is unprecedented and unacceptable and under the emoluments clause, I think it’s unconstitutional as well.”

Udall went on to press Pompeo on whether Trump and Putin discussed business investments in Trump properties during their one-on-one meeting.

“I’m going to stay out of the political circus,” Pompeo said. “I came here to talk about American foreign policy today.”

— Morgan Chalfant 

Pompeo defends North Korea denuclearization efforts 

4:49 p.m.

Pompeo defended Trump’s denuclearization efforts on North Korea, telling Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUS national security policy in the 117th Congress and a new administration OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden eyes new leadership at troubled public lands agency | House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally | Trump administration pushes for rollback of Arctic offshore drilling regulations House progressives tout their growing numbers in the chamber at climate rally MORE (D-Mass.) to “fear not” when the senator said he worries Trump is “being taken for a ride.”

Asked by Markey if North Korea has taken any verifiable steps toward denuclearization, Pompeo said “absolutely.”

Pressed further on what’s verifiable, Pompeo touted North Korea starting to dismantle a missile engine test site. 

“You discounted the destruction of the missile engine test facility, that missile engine test facility was functioning, viable and in use in January of 2017 before this administration took office,” he said.

“You and I interpret that gesture differently,” Markey replied.

Pompeo also told Markey that the United States does not have nuclear inspectors on the ground in North Korea and that Pyongyang continues to produce fissile material. Pompeo would not answer whether North Korea continues to develop submarine-launched ballistic missiles in an unclassified setting.

Asked if North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons will be included in denuclearization efforts, Pompeo said the administration made clear to Pyongyang it considers part of the deal and that North Korea understood that “clearly.”

— Rebecca Kheel 

Pompeo says no agreements reached on arms control

4:30 p.m. 

Pompeo told Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Senate advances energy regulator nominees despite uncertainty of floor vote Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee MORE (R-Wyo.) that there was no agreement reached between the U.S. and Russia on arms control, but that the Trump administration is looking into ways to ensure that Russia is compliant with arms treaties.

The U.S. has accused Russia of not complying with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which Moscow has denied. 

“We are trying to get the Russians back inside the INF,” Pompeo said, adding that the administration is also exploring ways to ensure that Moscow is compliant with the New START nuclear treaty.

“The Trump administration is considering how best to respond to that,” Pompeo said, “to decrease the risk of proliferation or potential nuclear conflict between our two countries.”

A Russian official previously said that “verbal agreements” were reached at the summit, including those on arms control.

— Morgan Chalfant

Pompeo says top general briefed Tuesday on Helsinki

4:26 p.m.

Pompeo said he and the top general in the U.S. military on Tuesday discussed Trump’s summit with Putin.

Pompeo was responding to a question from Kaine on a Washington Post story that said as of Monday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford was not briefed on the Helsinki summit.

Asked why Dunford had not been briefed yet, Pompeo said Kaine would have to ask the Pentagon. Pressed further on if it was true that Dunford had not been briefed, Pompeo said the pair discussed the summit Tuesday.

When Kaine suggested Pompeo and Dunford’s Tuesday conversation may have been the first briefing Dunford received, Pompeo said, “I suppose it's possible, yes.”

Kaine then ticked off a list of others headlines on the Pentagon being caught off-guard by Trump, such as on military drills in Korea, transgender troops and the proposed Space Force.

“I worry about an administration that is catching the Pentagon off guard, that is not consulting with Gen. Dunford or briefing him for a week after a summit of this importance to our military,” Kaine said.

— Rebecca Kheel

Kaine says intel officials ‘demoralized’ by Trump Helinski remarks

4:15 p.m.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus MORE (D-Va.) said that employees who work in the U.S. intelligence community and live in his state are “very demoralized” by the president’s performance in Helsinki.

Kaine specifically knocked Trump for casting doubt on the intelligence community’s assessment of Russian interference in the election. While Trump clarified and walked back his remarks a day later, Kaine said that his efforts have not cleared up concerns among intelligence officials.

Kaine specifically pointed to concerns he has heard from officials at the CIA — which Pompeo headed before being appointed secretary of State.

“They are very demoralized by this,” Kaine said.

— Morgan Chalfant 

Pompeo discusses ‘understandings’ that came out of Helsinki

3:50 p.m. 

Pompeo was grilled by Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry On The Money: Biden, Democratic leaders push for lame-duck coronavirus deal | Business groups shudder at Sanders as Labor secretary | Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year Top Democrat: Congress could pass retirement bill as soon as this year MORE (D-Md.) on what agreements or “understandings” came out of the meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki.

Pompeo described a “handful” of issues that Trump himself tasked him to follow-up on, including an agreement to revive a business-to-business leadership exchange and the possibility of creating a new council to cooperate on counterterrorism.

Pompeo also said vaguely that Trump asked him to follow-up on the possibility of cooperation on Syria.

“We are working to see in Syria what are the possibilities that can be achieved,” Pompeo said. “We are working to see if we cant get Russia to be more cooperative in terms of driving towards a political resolution there that would take down the violence levels and create some opportunity to begin a political resolution.” 

When questioned by Cardin, Pompeo said Trump did not agree to ease sanctions on Russia and that there was no agreement on Ukraine.

“No,” Pompeo said. “The U.S. policy has not changed.”

“There is a narrative that has developed that somehow President Trump is weak on Russia when in fact the converse is true,” he said.

— Morgan Chalfant

Pompeo, Menendez spar on Trump's private meeting with Putin 

3:41 p.m. 

Pompeo repeatedly dodged questions from Menendez on what was discussed in Trump’s private meeting with Putin.

Menendez first asked Pompeo whether the two leaders discussed relaxing U.S. sanctions on Russia.

“U.S. policy with respect to sanctions remains unchanged,” Pompeo replied.

When pressed by Menendez on whether that means the issue was not discussed, Pompeo replied that presidents are “entitled to have private meetings.”

He added later that “no commitment” has been made to change U.S. sanctions policy.

Menendez then turned to Ukraine, asking if Trump confronted Putin on withdrawing Russian forces from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

“The president was very clear with Vladimir Putin about U.S. positions,” Pompeo said. 

When Menendez pushed Pompeo on whether Trump told him that, Pompeo replied, “I understand the game that you’re playing.”

“With all due respect, I don’t appreciate you characterizing my questions,” Menendez shot back. “My questions is to get to the truth. We don’t know what the truth is. And the only way that we will know what the truth is, what transpired in those two hours, in a highly amazing period of time to spend alone one-on-one, is my understanding that at least if you were briefed by the president what he told you.”

— Rebecca Kheel

Pompeo takes hardline on Russia, defends Trump

3:30 p.m.

Pompeo used his opening remarks to take a hard line on Russia, calling Moscow out for its “malign activities” and outlining the “tough actions” the Trump administration has taken to punish the Kremlin.

He cited new sanctions on Russian entities and individuals, as well as the closure of Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S.

Pompeo defended Trump over criticism of his comments following the meeting with Putin in Helsinki. He emphasized that Trump has accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“President Trump has stated that he accepts our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election,” Pompeo said. “He has a complete and proper understanding of what happened.

“I know — I briefed him on it for over a year.”

Pompeo also highlighted the declaration unveiled by the State Department earlier Wednesday that says the U.S. will never recognize Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and calls on Moscow to “end its occupation” of the territory.

Pompeo also said he personally warned Russia that there will be "severe consequences" for interfering in U.S. elections.

"I personally made clear to the Russians that there will be severe consequences for interference in our democratic processes," Pompeo said. 

— Morgan Chalfant 

Menendez hints questions on Helsinki, North Korea

3:16 p.m.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDemocrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Trump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency MORE (D-N.J.) used his opening remarks to highlight questions he has about the discussions between Trump and Putin during their one-on-one meeting in Helsinki, which he described as a “three-ring circus of a debacle.”

Menendez, like other lawmakers, expressed grievances about the lack of details from the White House about what was discussed at the summit between the two leaders last week. 

“We don’t know what the truth is,” Menendez said. “The American people expect, and I believe they deserve, to know what happened.”

The Democratic senator also signaled concerns and questions about the summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un regarding the country's nuclear program. Menendez criticized the meeting as merely yielding a “vague agreement of promises to make more promises.”

— Morgan Chalfant

Corker to Pompeo: Senators have 'serious doubts about this White House' on foreign policy 

3:10 p.m.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand Cornyn: Relationships with Trump like 'women who get married and think they're going to change their spouse' MORE (R-Tenn.) kicked off the hearing by warning Pompeo that he would have to answer to senators “filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct of American foreign policy.”

“It’s our hope that you will reduce our level of concern by providing us with clear answers that might help convince us that those at the White House know what they are doing and that, to be candid, you know what they are doing,” Corker told Pompeo.

Corker ticked off a laundry list of concerns that have piled up for senators, including Trump’s summit with Putin in which Moscow says agreements were reached that Congress says it has not been told about.

Corker also questioned Trump’s conduct at his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including Trump’s praise of Kim as “very talented” and someone who “loves his people.” 

“Really?” Corker asked.

Corker then pointed to the NATO summit in which Trump berated allies to pay more, adding that he believes Trump used “false information to turn public opinion in the United States against the alliance.” 

Finally, Corker highlighted Trump’s tariffs, which he said the administration has offered “zero clarity” on for its long-term plans.

— Rebecca Kheel

Pompeo says US 'rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea'

2:53 p.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said before Wednesday's hearing that the United States will never recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea and called on Moscow to "end its occupation" of the territory.

"In concert with allies, partners, and the international community, the United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored," Pompeo said in a statement.

"As democratic states seek to build a free, just, and prosperous world, we must uphold our commitment to the international principle of sovereign equality and respect the territorial integrity of other states," Pompeo said.

"Through its actions, Russia has acted in a manner unworthy of a great nation and has chosen to isolate itself from the international community," he added.

His comments are the Trump administration's most explicit rebuke of Russia's claim on Crimea to date. They come as President Trump faces criticism for his handling of a meeting with Putin last week.

— Brett Samuels