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 PompeoTreasury sanctions individuals, groups tied to Russian malign influence activities Navalny released from hospital after suspected poisoning Overnight Defense: Pentagon redirects pandemic funding to defense contractors | US planning for full Afghanistan withdrawal by May | Anti-Trump GOP group puts ads in military papers MORE, as testimony from senior State Department officials raises questions about whether he enabled a shadow foreign policy led by Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting CIA found Putin 'probably directing' campaign against Biden: report Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate MORE or if he pushed back against decisions harmful to U.S. interests.

Pompeo has been an ardent defender of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Romney: 'Unthinkable and unacceptable' to not commit to peaceful transition of power Two Louisville police officers shot amid Breonna Taylor grand jury protests 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 RaskinOn The Money: House panel pulls Powell into partisan battles | New York considers hiking taxes on the rich | Treasury: Trump's payroll tax deferral won't hurt Social Security House panel pulls Powell into partisan battles over pandemic Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' 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) MenendezKasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report VOA visa decision could hobble Venezuela coverage 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 on Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power: 'What country are we in?' Democratic groups using Bloomberg money to launch M in Spanish language ads in Florida Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle 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 McConnellFEC flags McConnell campaign over suspected accounting errors Poll: 59 percent think president elected in November should name next Supreme Court justice Mark Kelly: Arizona Senate race winner should be sworn in 'promptly' 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 RobertsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by National Industries for the Blind - Trump seeks to flip 'Rage' narrative; Dems block COVID-19 bill GOP senators say coronavirus deal dead until after election 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 JohnsonThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose CHC leaders urge Senate to oppose Chad Wolf nomination  Top GOP senators say Hunter Biden's work 'cast a shadow' over Obama Ukraine policy 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 GrassleyThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose Top GOP senators say Hunter Biden's work 'cast a shadow' over Obama Ukraine policy Read: Senate GOP's controversial Biden report 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.