Pompeo defers to Justice on question of Trump election tweet

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoO'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' Israeli military instructed to prepare for Trump strike on Iran: report Biden's State Department picks are a diplomatic slam dunk MORE on Thursday deferred when pressed by Senate Democrats at a hearing on whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE has the authority to delay the presidential election.

Pompeo said he would not “make a legal judgement on the fly” and would defer to the Justice Department to make a “legal determination.” 

Trump in a tweet on Thursday morning suggested the presidential election should be delayed, arguing that the prospect of widespread mail-in voting made it more likely it would be inaccurate and "fraudulent."

Trump does not have the power to delay the election, however, and there is no evidence to suggest an election with additional mailed-in ballots would be subject to more voter fraud. 

Senate Republicans asked about the tweet indicated they have no interest in changing the date of the election.  

But Pompeo was careful in his response to questions from Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus MORE (D-Va.), saying it should happen “lawfully” but avoiding any conflict with the president's tweet.

The secretary was pushed by Democratic lawmakers during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to comment on what powers the president has in delaying the presidential elections. Moving the election would require an act of Congress.

In response to a question from Kaine about whether the president has the power to move the date of an election, Pompeo said everyone should want to have confidence in elections going forward. 

“We all should want, and I know that you do too, Sen. Kaine, want to make sure we have an election that everyone is confident in,” he said. 

Pompeo on Thursday focused on absentee voting as a legitimate reason for mailing in a ballot and as a practice is “very different than deciding if you’re going to conduct a full, in-mail balloting program.” 

He said he would leave to “the professionals” to identify the risks associated with that and that that election security “is not the primary focus” of the State Department.