Pompeo faces GOP grilling on Russia, North Korea

Pompeo faces GOP grilling on Russia, North Korea
© Greg Nash

Republican and Democratic lawmakers concerned over the uncertainty swirling around President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE’s foreign and trade policies will press Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSaudis say journalist killed in ‘fight’ at consulate; 18 detained Pompeo asks Mexico to help tackle migration ‘crisis’ Trump: 'FAKE NEWS' that Pompeo heard tape of Saudi journalist's death MORE for answers Wednesday, but there are doubts about how much he can answer.

Pompeo is scheduled to testify at 3 p.m. before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an eagerly awaited appearance for lawmakers hungry to know more about Trump’s two-hour private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Helsinki.


There are also questions about the status of diplomatic talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and what the administration’s next moves are after pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal in May.

Senators want Pompeo to explain Trump’s persistent criticism of European allies, something they fear has eroded trust within NATO.

Trade is another topic weighing on lawmakers, especially Republican senators from states with big farming economies hurt by Trump’s tariffs.

Even Trump’s allies acknowledge that constant confusion over Trump’s strategy for dealing with longtime allies and adversaries has created a sense of exasperation, and they hope Pompeo can bring clarity to several hot-button issues.


What happened in Helsinki?

Pompeo will face questions from both sides of the dais over what Trump agreed to during his one-on-one meeting with Putin, only in the presence of interpreters.

Members of the Foreign Relations panel will ask whether Trump agreed to make any changes to international security agreements or if he gave any commitments about the future of the U.S. military presence in Syria.

They will ask whether Trump pressed Putin on Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or on easing its nuclear posture toward U.S. allies in Europe.

Another topic of concern is whether the president discussed relaxing sanctions approved by Congress last year that Trump reluctantly signed into law. The Foreign Relations and Banking committees are considering additional penalties on Russia.

“In my opening comments, certainly I’m going to focus on Russia and what happened in Helsinki,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerThe Memo: Trump in a corner on Saudi Arabia Corker: US must determine responsibility in Saudi journalist's death Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation MORE (R-Tenn.).

“First and foremost, what commitments were made during that meeting,” said Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeTrump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona Watch live: Trump speaks at Arizona rally Mnuchin to attend anti-terror meeting in Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi disappearance MORE (R-Ariz.), another member of the committee. “Did it have to do with troop placements or military exercises in Europe? NATO expansion? Russia and Syria?”

“We have no idea what was said in that meeting,” he added. “There’s a lot of concern.”

But some members of the panel questioned whether Pompeo will be able to shed much light onto Trump’s private meeting with Putin, which Pompeo didn’t attend.

“Most of the questions Pompeo can’t answer,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyGOP lawmaker demands ‘immediate recall’ of acting US ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dem senator calls for US action after 'preposterous' Saudi explanation Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP MORE (D-Conn.). “Pompeo doesn’t know what America’s foreign policy is, only Trump knows. And it’s in his head and changes by the hour.”


Round two meeting with Putin?

Lawmakers want to know more about the likelihood of a second summit with Putin in Washington this fall.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced last week that Trump had instructed national security adviser John Bolton to invite Putin for another round of talks after Labor Day.

The idea was not well received by GOP lawmakers, but Corker said he wants to learn more details from Pompeo before passing judgment.

“Will the next meeting, the meeting here, involve another private meeting with the president? We ought to push back heavily there,” said Flake.


Status of talks with North Korea?

More than a month after Trump met with Kim at a summit in Singapore, there are lingering questions about what promises the leaders made to each other.

Members of the Foreign Relations panel want more details on what was discussed, as well as a report on Pompeo’s follow-up trip to North Korea earlier this month.

“All we got was a document of two pages that said we promise to make more promises but nothing substantive,” said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezTrump lowers refugee goal to 30,000, he must meet it Blame Senate, not FBI, for Kavanaugh travesty Dems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints MORE (N.J.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. “I’d like to hear from the secretary, ‘Do you even have an agreed-upon definition about what de-nuclearization means?’ ”

“There’s no strategic view, whether it be North Korea, whether it be China, whether it be Russia,” he added. “There’s confusion because there’s no strategic plan.”

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerElection Countdown: Small-donor donations explode | Russian woman charged with midterm interference | Takeaways from North Dakota Senate debate | O'Rourke gives 'definitive no' to 2020 run | Dems hope Latino voters turn Arizona blue Democrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' MORE (R-Colo.), another member of the panel, says he wants to know what the administration’s timeline is for talks with North Korea.

“I’ll focus a lot on North Korea and anticipate a good discussion on where we’re at,” he said. “I’d like to get a good idea of the time frame.”


Trump’s NATO strategy?

Lawmakers are looking for reassurance on Trump’s plans for NATO after a rocky summit with European allies in Brussels earlier this month.

Trump criticized allies for not spending more on national security and made headlines after accusing Germany of being “totally controlled by Russia.”

In an interview last week, Trump questioned the U.S. commitment to defending NATO allies such as Montenegro, which he described as a “tiny country” that could draw the nation into “World War III.”

Corker said he will focus on “Article 5 issues relative to NATO” and ask why Trump appears to be “continually undermining Americans’ view of NATO.”

“Toward what end?” he asked.

Article 5 provides for the collective defense of NATO allies and is considered the heart of the treaty. It requires members to defend any signatory that is attacked.


Is there an endgame strategy for trade?

A pressing question, for Republican senators especially, is what Trump plans to do to end the escalating trade war with Mexico, Canada, China and the European Union.

Administration negotiators have told lawmakers that a trade deal with Mexico is close but differences with Canada may not be resolved anytime soon.

Senators are growing increasingly frustrated over what they see as a lack of a coherent strategy on trade.

They want to know when the administration will come up with a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump pulled out of shortly after taking office.

“I just don’t see how this ends,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator seeking information on FBI dealings with Bruce Ohr, former DOJ lawyer Election Countdown: O'Rourke brings in massive M haul | Deal on judges lets senators return to the trail | Hurricane puts Florida candidates in the spotlight | Adelson spending big to save GOP in midterms Senate Homeland chair vents Mueller probe is preventing panel from receiving oversight answers MORE (R-Wis.), a member of the Foreign Relations panel, of the tit-for-tat exchange of retaliatory tariffs that Trump initiated.

“I’d like to understand the different strategies that are being employed in so many of these different areas,” he said. “What are we trying to accomplish?”

He said the confusion over Trump’s foreign and trade policies “are not good.”

“A certain level of unpredictability, maybe that works in some circumstances. But when it comes to foreign policy, when it comes to economic activity, stability and certainty work,” Johnson added.