Politics

Mike Pompeo Is Lying About Iran

Like his boss, he denies even the most obvious facts.

Pompeo tilts his head while speaking. He is wearing a visible American flag pin on his lapel.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday in Washington.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, has a long record of deception. In 2017, he falsely claimed that according to a U.S. intelligence assessment, Russian interference “did not affect the outcome“ of the 2016 election. In 2018, he carefully misled reporters about the Saudi government’s role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Last year, after listening in on Trump’s corrupt phone call with the president of Ukraine, Pompeo pretended not to know about it.

Now Pompeo is defending Trump’s lethal drone strike on Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military commander. The secretary gave several interviews on Friday and Saturday, appeared on six Sunday morning shows, and followed up with a press conference on Tuesday. We won’t know the full extent of Pompeo’s deceit until we see more of the intelligence that supposedly warranted the strike. But we have enough evidence to prove that once again, he’s lying.

Like Trump, Pompeo denies even the most obvious facts. On Sunday Morning Futures, a Fox News program, host Maria Bartiromo asked Pompeo about complaints that Trump was “targeting cultural sites” in Iran. Pompeo insisted that wasn’t true. “President Trump didn’t say he’d go after a cultural site,” he told Bartiromo. “Read what he said very closely.”

OK, let’s read what Trump said. On Saturday, the president tweeted, “Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have targeted 52 Iranian sites … some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, Trump repeated his threat on Sunday: “They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.”

Pompeo also misrepresented the words of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In four Sunday interviews, Pompeo claimed that Milley, in a conversation with reporters on Friday, had said the United States would have been “culpably negligent“ if it hadn’t “gone after Soleimani“ and “taken that strike“ to kill him. But that isn’t what Milley said. According to every reporter who witnessed the general’s remarks, Milley said it would have been negligent, in view of Iran’s provocations, to do nothing at all.

This distinction is important because the central dispute about Soleimani isn’t whether he was a vicious orchestrator of violence (he was) or whether Iran’s recent aggressions warranted a forceful response (they did). The dispute is over whether, among the available options, it was necessary, wise, or rash to kill him. Pompeo claims there was no such dispute, either within the administration or among congressional leaders who were briefed on the intelligence. That claim is a lie.

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Pompeo about statements from “congressional leaders” that U.S. intelligence, contrary to the administration’s assertions, didn’t show “an imminent attack that was bigger, more worrisome“ than Soleimani’s usual schemes. Pompeo dismissed the question, denying that such a quarrel even existed. “I haven’t heard any of the congressional leaders who have seen the full set of intelligence make the comments that you just described,” he told Wallace.

That’s risible. By the time Pompeo made this statement, the press was full of quotes from congressional leaders—including those who had attended “classified briefings with U.S. intelligence officials on Friday“—about the paucity of evidence to support the strike. Furthermore, on the same Sunday shows on which Pompeo was speaking, three members of the “Gang of Eight”—the lawmakers who get the most complete intelligence briefings—rejected his account. On ABC’s This Week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the administration’s explanations unsatisfactory. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Sen. Mark Warner said he had yet to receive adequate evidence of an imminent threat. On CNN’s State of the Union, Rep. Adam Schiff cited “a lack of detail in terms of the plotting“ that supposedly justified the strike.

Pompeo also lied about differences of opinion within the administration. He told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that among “the senior leaders who had access to all of the intelligence, there was no skepticism“ about the need to kill Soleimani. On Face the Nation, Margaret Brennan asked the secretary: “Were all of the president’s national security advisers in full agreement that Qassem Soleimani needed to be killed?” Pompeo replied, “Yes.” He assured Brennan that “there was unanimity that we were making the right decision.”

You can argue about whether it was the right decision. But Pompeo’s claims of unanimity are simply false. The Washington Post has spoken to “defense officials” who “said Pompeo’s claims of an imminent and direct threat were overstated.” The New York Times, in its report on “disputes in the administration,” cites officials who have called the intelligence “thin” and “normal.” The in-house skeptics point to intelligence that Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hadn’t approved any plans for an upcoming attack. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have reported that “top Pentagon officials were stunned” by Trump’s decision.

Pompeo is lying about our allies, too. On Friday, after a French official said the strike had made the world less safe, Pompeo snapped that “the French are just wrong.” On Saturday, he complained to Sean Hannity that “The Europeans haven’t been as helpful as I wish that they could be. The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well.” But that didn’t stop Pompeo from asserting on Sunday that Trump had assembled an unprecedented alliance. He told Bartiromo, “Iran has never been in a place where they’ve been challenged not only economically, but diplomatically, with a global coalition that in May of last year put out a united statement against Iran.”

Meanwhile, Pompeo slandered former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden. “The Obama-Biden administration essentially handed power to the Iranian leadership and acted as a quasi-ally of theirs,” Pompeo told Wallace. He claimed that Obama and Biden “provided them $150 billion” as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, “underwriting the very militias that killed Americans.” On Meet the Press, Pompeo said Obama’s policy “was designed to guarantee that the Iranian regime would have power, authority, capacity to take Americans” hostage.

These are allegations of treason. To the extent that they impugn Obama’s motives, they’re baseless and vile. But to the extent that they can be checked against evidence, they’re provably false. Every news organization that has examined the “$150 billion” claim found that none of that money came from the United States. It was Iran’s money, released from frozen bank accounts, and it was more like $30 billion to $50 billion.

At his press conference on Tuesday, Pompeo was asked for evidence that Iran had been preparing an imminent attack. He said U.S. intelligence showed “continuing efforts“ by Soleimani “to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead, potentially, to the death of many more Americans.” In other words, the attack wasn’t imminent. But the contradiction didn’t faze Pompeo. The strike on Soleimani was necessary to save American lives, he insisted. He just goes right on lying.