Pressure builds on Pompeo as impeachment inquiry charges ahead

The impeachment inquiry spotlight is starting to shift toward Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Saudi-Russia oil fight is the last thing the economy needs in a pandemic US intel agencies conclude China has under-reported coronavirus cases, deaths: report Susan Rice scolds Pompeo for using 'Wuhan virus' term MORE, as testimony from senior State Department officials raises questions about whether he enabled a shadow foreign policy led by Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiHillicon Valley: FCC chief proposes 0M telehealth program | Twitter takes down posts promoting anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus| Whole Foods workers plan Tuesday strike 12 things to know today about coronavirus Twitter takes down posts promoting anti-malaria treatment for coronavirus MORE or if he pushed back against decisions harmful to U.S. interests.

Pompeo has been an ardent defender of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE, but witness testimony highlights small instances of pushback by the secretary, illustrating the perilous tightrope walk he faces of preserving his relationship with the president and ensuring his political future.

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But Democrats have seized on witness accounts of when Pompeo failed to counter Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, arguing the secretary favored protecting his own political interests over the State Department’s.

“Secretary of State Pompeo will be remembered as a political flunky sycophant,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order Senators urge Congress to include election funds in coronavirus stimulus Vote at home saves our democracy and saves lives MORE (D-Md.), who is a member of one of the committees leading the impeachment investigation. “Secretary Pompeo essentially abandoned his team in his obsequiousness to the president."

“He fails in every respect,” said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezHillicon Valley: Facebook launches portal for coronavirus information | EU sees spike in Russian misinformation on outbreak | Senate Dem bill would encourage mail-in voting | Lawmakers question safety of Google virus website Democratic senators press Google over privacy of coronavirus screening site Menendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “He becomes an enabler of the president and he’s more interested in preserving his political favor with the president so he can run for Senate than he cares about the State Department.”

Some former diplomats acknowledge that Pompeo has put himself in a difficult position, caught between his loyalties to Trump and his responsibilities as head of the State Department.

“In fairness to Secretary Pompeo, I think he does care about the department, but he’s part of this administration. And even if he does defend people, he has got to do it privately because he is the president’s representative,” said Ronald Neumann, head of the American Academy of diplomacy and a three-time ambassador. 

“I do have some sympathy for him but he’s not being very effective at this point, in terms of protecting his own people,” Neumann added.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

In both public and private testimony, Pompeo is described by State Department officials as someone who listened to concerns over the tension between Giuliani’s role in crafting Ukraine policy and the smear campaign launched against former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, but was ultimately tasked with carrying out the president’s wishes.

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, in a public appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing as ambassador to Russia, testified that Pompeo “pushed back and sought justification from those who were criticizing Ambassador Yovanovich,” but that “after several months had lapsed, the secretary finally told me that there had come a point at which the president had lost confidence in the ambassador and that we needed to make a change in our mission to Ukraine.” 

Yovanovich, in her closed-door testimony to House committees, said “things kind of simmered down” with the intervention of either Pompeo or a senior state department official, following media reports accusing her of abusing her position as ambassador.

But Pompeo has been criticized for failing to offer public support for Yovanovich, which led to the resignation of his senior adviser, Michel McKinley, and deeply affected morale at the State Department.

“Morale is pretty low,” former ambassador Neumann said of employees at the agency. “There’s a feeling that the White House is both misusing and abusing career employees and that Secretary Pompeo does not speak in their defense.”

Pompeo has not complied with a congressional subpoena calling for a broad range of State Department documents related to the investigation. Congress could call the secretary to testify, although there are currently no plans to do so, one Democratic lawmaker said. 

Democrats may feel as though they already have a clear picture of the administration’s inner workings from some of Pompeo’s colleagues at the State Department, particularly when it comes to Giuliani’s role in Ukraine policy.

Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he believed Pompeo and State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl “hit a brick wall when it came to getting rid of Mr. Giuliani.”

“Listen, the State Department was fully aware of the issues,” Sondland said in testimony about Giuliani, “and there was very little they could do about it if the President decided he wanted his lawyer involved.”

Nicholas Burns, a two-time ambassador, career foreign service officer and professor of diplomacy and international relations at the Harvard Kennedy School, accused the Trump administration of politicizing the State Department to the detriment of America’s foreign policy. 

“The Trump Administration has politicized the State Department more than any Administration in memory,” Burns, who worked on the National Security Council under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, wrote in an email to The Hill. “Our nation suffers when our career diplomats are ignored. When Trump is defeated or removed from office, Republicans and Democrats in Congress will need to make a major effort to revive the State Department, reduce the number of political appointees as Ambassador and restore support for the career Foreign Service.”

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In public interviews, Pompeo has reacted in broad terms to questions about whether he directed or allowed U.S. pressure on Ukraine to open investigations into 2016 election meddling or conspiracy theories surrounding former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Overnight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes 16 things to know today about coronavirus outbreak MORE, his son Hunter Biden and their involvement with the Ukraine energy company Burisma. 

“Our team’s been deeply aware for an awfully long time of corruption in Ukraine,” Pompeo told Fox News at the end of October, couching it as part of the “singular mission” of the State Department’s efforts in eastern Europe.

Pompeo, who served in Congress for six years before being tapped as CIA director, is seen as a potential Senate candidate in his home state of Kansas. Republicans are eager to have him run in 2020 and emerge victorious in the primary over the declared candidacy of Republican Kris Kobach, who GOP critics say bumbled the 2018 gubernatorial race that flipped the governor's mansion to Democrat Laura Kelly.

Pompeo has been tight-lipped about whether he’ll launch a Senate bid, despite support from Kansas Republicans and the backing of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill On The Money: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors MORE (R-Ky.). 

“Well, he’s my first choice,” McConnell said of Pompeo to talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt in September.

Republicans have a good shot of winning the Senate seat next year, and Pompeo would be a welcome candidate to succeed retiring Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsCoronavirus stimulus talks hit setback as crisis deepens Garth Brooks accepts Library of Congress's Gershwin Prize for Popular Song GOP, Democrats hash out 2020 strategy at dueling retreats MORE (R), according to Kansas-based GOP lobbyist and political consultant David Kensinger. 

“By all accounts, he is the most respected and popular politician in Kansas,” Kensinger said. “It’s essential, especially for a more rural-population state like Kansas, that the U.S. senator be someone who can stand tall. And we had that with Pat Roberts and need to follow along with someone like Mike Pompeo.” 

The deadline to enter the race isn’t until June, and staying in Trump’s good graces, even if it means getting further caught up in the impeachment probe, could hurt Pompeo’s chances should he run for Senate. Recent polling has found that a majority of Kansas residents disapprove of the president’s job performance.

When asked about Pompeo’s role in the Ukraine saga, GOP senators have focused instead on the process of the inquiry, calling it a “sham.”

“I don’t know the details and am not going to comment on things I don’t have knowledge about,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRemembering Tom Coburn's quiet persistence Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries MORE (R-Wis.), when asked about how Pompeo is perceived in testimony.

Johnson, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, may soon have a more favorable or unfavorable opinion of Pompeo. Johnson and Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyLawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Democrats eye additional relief checks for coronavirus MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to Pompeo requesting all State Department documents related to Hunter Biden and Burisma.