S1: A few months back, Garrett Graff wrote a profile of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published in Wired at the time the impeachment inquiry had just gotten started. Looking back at what he wrote, what stands out to Garrett now is how far Pompeo so little has changed.
S2: If anything, he is even more tightly tied to Trump. And it’s more clear that he sort of stands alone in the constellation or panoply of Trump advisers that they’re sort of. MIKE POMPEO And then there’s everybody else.
S3: A friend of mine sort of put up on his desk a picture of everyone in the cabinet.
S4: You know, when Trump first took office. And slowly he’s been crossing people out and replacing them.
S3: And one of the few people who’s still on this diagram is Mike Pompeo. Yeah.
S5: And I think it’s clear from last two weeks that Mike Pompeo is the most powerful and significant presidential advisor since Henry Kissinger was to Nixon. There are certainly powerful and important presidential advisers in past administrations. You know, Colin Powell as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, James Baker. But none of them have been as unrivaled for the president’s ear as Mike Pompeo is.
S1: This loyalty, it’s been on full display as Pompeo spent weeks ducking the Democrats on impeachment and then showed up to fully defend Trump after the president used deadly force to counter Iran.
S6: What was the plan? Who were the targets? And how so? Yes. President Trump was right in what he said. So was I.
S1: The secretary of state showed up on all five Sunday political shows to explain custom suleimani’s death, a feat so rare and as a special nickname.
S2: Today, he is someone who is very happy being the president’s chief public defender. And you see that in moments like that, full Ginsburg last weekend defending the Iran actions, talking about the Iran strategy.
S6: There’s no surprise there’s plenty of public evidence about the bad behavior of Kassams. Suleimani, who was a designated terrorist, and we did the right thing.
S7: Mike Pompeo has made clear that he sees his path to success as minimizing any visible space between him and the president.
S8: Today on the show, Garrett calls Pompeo a Trump world unicorn because unlike other presidential appointees, he seems to be succeeding within the administration.
S9: So amid all the scandals and political turbulence, what’s my Pompei US political playbook? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next. Stick with us.
S1: When Garrett met Secretary of Pompeo, they spoke on the seventh floor of the State Department, surrounded by oil paintings of previous secretaries of state. I look at these pictures, Pompeo said. And I think, oh my gosh. Madison, Monroe. Jefferson, Pompeo. Which of those doesn’t belong in that group? This quote makes Pompeo seem a little wide eyed, Garrett says. It’s hard to know how much that’s genuine because he knows Pompeo can read an audience blend in. Garrett calls Pompeo a chameleon.
S10: Mike Pompeo has a very off shucks vibe to the way that he portrays himself in his public image. And, you know, I don’t know exactly how much of it is an affectation, but he is not exactly the creature of the heartland that he purports to be. You know, this is someone who was educated at West Point, went to Harvard Law School, worked in big law in Washington, D.C.. You know, I think when you talk to people around him, talk to people who know him.
S2: One of the things that is constant about his career and his image is that he has been very successful at sort of reinventing himself at each turn of his career to be the thing that he needs to be for that role.
S4: Yeah, I mean, he became well known as a congressman from Kansas, but that’s not his home state. Right?
S2: No, not his home state. It’s his adopted home state. He moved out there to work alongside some of his West Point colleagues to build an aerospace industrial manufacturing firm known as Thayer Industries. And it was actually there that he first met some of the people who were going to be the most important backers of his political life. The Coke brothers who were early investors in fair and for whom he did a lot of business during his time in Kansas. Eventually, as he turned to politics, they became one of his biggest backers. And in Congress, he was the number one recipient in the country of Coke money.
S1: Pompeo came to Washington as a Tea Party congressman, boosted by all that private money. He was in the House of Representatives the last time there was a roiling controversy at the State Department. The death of a U.S. ambassador in Benghazi, Libya.
S11: And we’ve read the emails. We’ve read everything that we could get our hands on. It’s taken us a long time to get it. But I will tell you, just described all of this other information that you relied upon, and it doesn’t comport with the record that this committee has been able to establish today. I want to just take a look.
S2: He was one of the most vocal and vociferous attackers of Hillary Clinton on Benghazi.
S11: Can you account for why that is, why we have an increase in requests and yet no increase in security?
S2: Well, Congressman, you know, sort of pounding the table over needing cooperation from the State Department and how dare Hillary Clinton and the State Department not bowed to the whims of congressional investigators?
S1: Garrett says this scene of Mike Pompeo railing against Hillary Clinton for a lack of transparency, that seems ironic now after months of Pompeo stonewalling Congress in the Ukraine investigation.
S2: Now, you know, switch seats and all of a sudden, Mike Pompeo is the one up there saying, you know, I’m gonna do everything I can to protect the independence of the State Department, and I’m not going to abide by these congressional subpoenas. And, you know, Congress has no right to be digging into this information and its arguments sort of exactly opposite that which he made as a congressman in the exact same type of investigations of the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure.
S12: I guess it shows exactly what you were saying before, which is he has this chameleon like quality of adapting to the scenery that he needs to adapt to it. Yes.
S2: And that I think it makes it very hard to know what are Mike Pompei, those core beliefs and does he have any Pompei?
S13: His performance on the House Select Committee on Benghazi made him memorable, especially for Mike Pence.
S1: Garrett says it was Pence who recommended Pompeo to head up the CIA when President Trump took office.
S4: When he got that role, it’s interesting, it sounds like he saw the opportunity and he began making sure he had as much face time with the president as possible. He began giving him the daily intelligence briefs, which hadn’t been given by the head of CIA in recent years. Is that correct?
S2: Yeah. This is one of the most interesting examples of sort of the the bureaucratic elbow’s that Mike Pompeo can throw the president’s daily brief, the that sort of Oval Office security briefing and intelligence briefing that the president is supposed to get every day has traditionally in recent years been given by the director of national intelligence. Now, when Mike Pompeo started as CIA director, he started out giving those briefs. And then once Dan Coats was confirmed as the director of national intelligence, he didn’t give it up. It was a moment where Mike Pompeo realized that getting that daily face time with President Trump was gold, that, you know, in this administration where Trump operates with an incredibly small circle of advisers, you’re either in front of the president in person or you don’t exist. And you know, Dan Coats, when I talked to people in the Rick director of National Intelligence, his office, they sort of said that basically, like Dan Coats never had the chance to develop his own independent relationship with President Trump. And that’s one of the reasons that that relationship didn’t end up working out. And Dan Coats ended up quitting last year.
S4: And Pompeo started installing friends within the administration, too. He had Gina Haspel joined him as his deputy at the CIA. She’s now running that agency. How did he sort of build his allies within this White House?
S2: Yeah, this is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Pompeo world. And I think sort of one of the things that many people outside of Washington don’t realize is that as Mike Pompeo has vanquished these rivals, the person who stays behind is often a Mike Pompeo loyalist. Gina Haspel, his deputy at CIA, became the new CIA director. The Defense Department at the Pentagon wants Jim Mattis was thrown out or OROSZ, because, I should say, quit. Mark Esper, who is actually Mike Pompeo, his classmate at West Point, was installed as the new defense secretary. And one of the things that I think you do see in the Iran actions of these last two weeks is that there is very little daylight anymore between the different members of Trump’s national security team. And one of the reasons for that, I think, is a people now understand there is no point to opposing Donald Trump. That’s a very quick way to earn a ticket out of the administration. But be that Mike Pompeo is making sure that sort of at every turn, the voices are people who not necessarily are going to defer to him, but are going to agree with his worldview.
S4: You know, we talk so much about how this is a reality show presidency. But listening to you describe how Mike Pompeo has approached his job and made that into longevity, it really does sound like survivor more than anything else.
S2: Yes. And you know, Mike Pompeo at this point is effectively the final survivor.
S1: Garrett says Pompei was a survivor, but he’s now a secretary of state. Pompeo has kept working the same playbook, loyalty above all else.
S2: Mike Pompeo has made clear that there is no policy, that Donald Trump believes that Mike Pompeo does not believe also. You know, I asked him to point me to a single place where he disagrees with the president. And he refused to do so, which I thought was a really remarkable and telling moment in our interview.
S4: Yeah. I mean, you’ve said Pompeo views his role as more of the president’s chief foreign policy staffer and instead of America’s top diplomat. Can you just explain the difference there?
S2: Yeah, I mean, so for one thing, you know, the secretary of state, a cabinet official, has a slightly different role than a White House advisor. You know, though, the White House advisor, in any role, you know, your goal is to execute the policy positions of the president of the United States. When you are a cabinet official, though, you’re supposed to be slightly different. You’re supposed to represent the. Prerogatives and norms and traditions of your institution and the State Department sort of has its own agenda. It has things that it considers important across American history. And, you know, you’re supposed to represent your workforce to the president to a certain extent. And and that is something that Mike Pompeo does not do. You know, the president trumps budget. Last year proposed dramatic draconian cuts to the State Department’s budget. And Mike Pompeo, you know, not only didn’t appear to argue against them, but was willing to, in appearances on Capitol Hill, say that he didn’t think that those cuts as large as the third in some areas would matter to the men and women of the State Department.
S12: You said he has a dark and pessimistic world view. Give me an example of that. Where have you seen that?
S2: Well, Mike Pompeo is someone who seems in many ways ill suited for the world of diplomacy, in part because he sort of regularly seems to view the world with a very dark lens, that there are very bad people out there trying to do harm to the United States and that he speaks about this in the past in terms of, you know, the threat from Muslim and Islamic extremists from countries like Iran that want to hurt the United States. In his view and in many ways, he’s, you know, tries to bring in some of his martial rhetoric from his days in the Army and in the CIA to the State Department. He’s referred to the State Department diplomats as his warriors, which is a phrase that just makes State Department employees, you know, it’s like nails on the chalkboard. They recoil from phrases like that.
S7: And he is someone who does not when he goes out on the world stage to speak. The Trump doctrine seemed to be trying to call people to, you know, sort of the hopes and ideals of America as a nation. He instead seems to be sort of set on trying to defend against the worst impulses of mankind.
S4: So this week, the House of Representatives should be transmitting articles of impeachment to the Senate. Secretary Pompeo is, of course, right in the middle of that scandal as well. Have you gotten a chance to speak with him or anyone inside his administration since all of this testimony began to come out in November from people who worked closely with Pompeo on what was happening in the Ukraine?
S2: I’ve not spoken to him, but, you know, I have spoken to people inside and around the State Department. And I think it’s impossible to see that the Ukraine scandal, as it has morphed and unfolded, as not having a major impact on his political future. You know, before all of that, it seemed very clear that he was headed towards running for Senate in Kansas in 2020. You know, as the first step in trying to set himself up to run for president in 2024, the Ukraine scandal has really had a deleterious effect on his running of the State Department on morale inside the State Department. And I think in many ways has tied his future so inextricably to Donald Trump himself that Mike Pompeo ultimately decided not to run for the Senate and is going to stay on as secretary of state. And he you know, I think that there is no future for Mike Pompeo. That is not, you know, aligned perfectly with and as a key member of the Trump administration.
S4: We were talking about how Pompeo has really consolidated power. He’s installed allies all over the administration, but consolidating power like that. It means that when things go wrong, you also have the full responsibility.
S2: Yes, that’s true. If you admit that anything is wrong. You know, I think that’s sort of part of the wonder of the Trump administration is their ability to. No matter what happens, you know, declare victory and say that this is exactly what they intended all along.
S4: So the key question has become, will people like Secretary Pompeo actually testify when this trial moves forward in the Senate? I wonder what you think Secretary Pompei or the witness would even look like?
S10: I don’t think we have any idea what Mike Pompeo as a witness would look like, in part because I would imagine that there is no one less likely to testify than Mike Pompeo that, you know, I’ll bet Donald Trump himself would testify before Mike Pompeo would. And that’s because for Pompeo, there is absolutely no upside to participating in this impeachment inquiry in any way.
S2: You know, it has already undermined his moral, moral authority within his own building. And any attempt at any testimony that opens even the smallest crack between him and the president would go against every impulse that Mike Pompeo has had since the day that he started the administration.
S4: There’s an irony there where it’s you know, Mike Pompeo made his name in the Benghazi, you know, investigation, talking to Secretary Clinton.
S10: This is sort of the oddest irony of this whole saga is, you know, Mike Pompeo, the congressman, would tear apart on the witness stand, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, that, you know, there is of all of the people who have reinvented themselves for the Trump administration. There is no debate that I would rather see than between Mike Pompeo. Congressman Mike Pompeo, secretary of State.
S14: Garrett Graff, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me.
S8: Garrett Graff is a contributing reporter at Wired. He’s also the executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Cyber and Technology Program.
S15: And that’s the show.
S8: What next is produced by Mary Wilson. Jason de Leon, Daniel Hewitt and Maurice Silvers. I’m Mary Harris. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.