Opinion | White House

Mike Pompeo's Faustian bargain

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Mike Pompeo is a large man with even larger political ambitions: a Donald Trump loyalist, who'd likely win a Kansas Senate seat next year and - whoever captures the White House in 2020 - could very well emerge as the next Republican candidate for President. 

However, like most anyone associated with Trump, a taint inevitably sets in. For the Secretary of State, it's the current Ukrainian scandal.

The revelation, thanks to a whistleblower, that Trump in a call to the President of Ukraine this summer pressured him to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a possible presidential rival next year, was a political bombshell. The odds are the House will vote to impeach the president before year's end - though a Senate conviction remains unlikely at this stage, even as public opinion shifts markedly against Trump.

The administration official most implicated in the controversy at this point seems to be Pompeo. Initially, he feigned ignorance. But after the Wall Street Journal disclosed that Pompeo actually was listening in on the call, he was forced to admit it.

There are strong indications that Trump was threatening to hold up critical U.S. assistance to Ukraine - even as that country tries to stave off a Russian invasion and domination - unless that government tried to smear Biden. (Biden's son worked for a Ukrainian energy company, a legitimate issue, but the former Vice President, according to every reliable source, acted properly in carrying out U.S. policy to pressure Ukraine to more aggressively attack corruption.)

As more stuff surfaces, with at least two intelligence whistleblowers, it's hard to envision that Secretary Pompeo, a trusted Trumpite, was in the dark.

The president's out-of-control personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and two of his associates (now under indictment), orchestrated the removal of the respected American ambassador to Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch. Her sin: behaving as a good diplomat, unwilling to play ball in the smear Biden effort or to help Giuliani and his sidekicks in any business deals.

The Secretary of State pushed her under the bus. This only exacerbated historically low morale at the State Department and foreign service, where people are working under a boss who cares chiefly about the president's and his own political calculations.

As the House Intelligence committee requests records and testimony on the Ukrainian scandal, Pompeo is in full stonewall mode.

These congressional demands, he charges, are "an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State, including several career foreign service officers."

That's rich - on so many levels.

Mike Pompeo standing up for State Department and foreign service officials? Ask former Ambassador Yovanovitch about that.

He's a classic bully with a reputation of going ballistic if he doesn't get his way. Nowhere was this more evident than in the special house probe into Benghazi, a phony scandal seeking to capitalize on the murder of four Americans by Libyan terrorists during the Obama Administration. Back then, Pompeo bellowed about the lack of cooperation from the Obama administration - notably the State Department - over documents and testimony.

In reality, that Republican-led select committee interviewed over 60 State, Defense and intelligence agency officials and got some 75,000 pages of documents.

Yet Pompeo now embraces the notion of preventing career diplomats from sharing information with Congress, even though such withholding is contrary to the law.

All this could complicate Pompeo's political plans.

Even if Pompeo is not implicated in the scandal, next spring Trump - still in office but reeling - might see any departure as a rat leaving a foundering ship. This President has one loyalty - to himself - and his past treatment of people who have left his administration bodes ill for Pompeo.

Secretary of State Pompeo also can't escape blame for the current debacle in Syria, where Trump sold out America's Kurdish allies, potentially paving the way for an ISIS revival.

It's getting to him; when asked legitimate questions about Ukraine, Pompeo snapped that the reporter must be working for the Democratic National Committee

Washington and Kansas Republican strategists are eager for him to run. The last Democrat to win a Senate seat from Kansas ran before Franklin D. Roosevelt became president. The state's Republicans, however, are engaged in a bitter, ideological war that led to the election of a Democratic governor last year.

Pompeo, perhaps with an eye to this Senate race, has lost weight. The problem is a piece of it appears to have come out of his soul.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.