Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set off an already anxious nation’s alarm bells at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. When asked if the State Department was preparing to work with the Biden transition team, he replied, smirking, “There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
The most charitable interpretation is that he meant it as a joke. He did smile after he said it and went on to say:
“The world is watching. We’re going to count all the votes. When the process is complete, there will be electors selected. There’s a process. The Constitution lays it out pretty clearly. And the world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today, and successful with the president who’s in office on Jan. 20, a minute after noon, will also be successful.”
This doesn’t sound like an announcement of a coup. It sounds consistent with the (inaccurate and dangerous) position of leading congressional Republicans that the outcome of the election is still in doubt as long as the campaign’s legal challenges alleging voter fraud are unresolved.
Still, Pompeo should know making this statement is highly inflammatory at a time when world leaders have already been congratulating Biden after his clear victory. He is sending yet another signal to Trump voters that they shouldn’t view Biden’s victory or his presidency as legitimate.
Pompeo also indulged in one of his favorite pastimes: self-righteously rejecting any comparison between anti-democratic behavior by his own government and the foreign governments he frequently criticizes. He’s issued several grave statements of concern about elections in Tanzania, Belarus, and Myanmar in just the past couple weeks in what sometimes seems like unintentional trolling of his own president. But he dismissed as “ridiculous” a question about whether the Trump administration’s behavior undermines State Department statements calling on countries to conduct free and fair elections and for losers to respect the results.
Pompeo was right about one thing, though: The world is watching.