As President Donald Trump and his allies continue to vilify the senior American diplomats who have testified before the House impeachment inquiry, their boss, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is getting out of Washington -- and heading back home to Kansas.
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The trip to his adopted home state is his third official visit and at least his fourth in total this year, fueling further speculation that he will run for the state's open Senate seat next year.
Pompeo has made a point of traveling domestically, saying it's important to help the American public understand what the State Department does. But the trip comes at a critical time for the top U.S. diplomat, who faces growing internal outrage over Trump's attacks on senior diplomats and Pompeo's lack of response to them.
The State Department has not responded to multiple questions about the disparagement of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the current top diplomat in Kyiv Bill Taylor, whose testimony Tuesday before the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees has emerged as the most damning yet against Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
Taylor testified that through contacts with Giuliani, Trump administration officials and Ukrainian officials, he learned the White House was withholding aid and a meeting between the two countries' presidents unless Ukraine agreed to launch investigations that would favor Trump politically back home.
In response, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham slammed "radical un-elected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution" Tuesday. The next day on Twitter, Trump dismissed Taylor as someone he didn't know and condemned him as a "Never Trumper Diplomat."
Similarly, Trump had badmouthed Yovanovitch, who was recalled from her post in Ukraine, as "bad news" on his controversial July 25 call with the country's new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy. During that call, Trump asked Zelesnkiy to "do us a favor" and investigate unsubstantiated claims of corruption around Burisma, Ukrainian energy company, and former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter, along with a conspiracy theory of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.
Yovanovitch had been the victim of what another senior State Department official called a "fake news driven smear campaign" led by Giuliani and his associates, who along with Ukraine's corrupt former prosecutor-general, accused her of blocking investigations into Democrats by withholding visas and giving the prosecutor-general a list of officials not to prosecute.
At the time, in March, a State Department spokesperson called the allegations an "outright fabrication" that "does not correspond to reality" in response to articles in conservative U.S. media. The prosecutor-general, Yuriy Lutsenko later recanted his allegations.
But the State Department has since declined to say whether it stands by that defense.
In an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" Sunday, Pompeo repeatedly declined to discuss "personnel matters."
But that silence has been interpreted by many within the department as abandoning these senior Foreign Service officers, who are widely respected, amid withering White House attacks, leading to growing frustration with Pompeo's leadership.
Pompeo has been backed into a corner now between pleasing the president and his rank and file. Trump issued a warning that could have been taken as a shot across Pompeo's bow.
"It would be really great if the people within the Trump Administration, all well-meaning and good (I hope!), could stop hiring Never Trumpers, who are worse than the Do Nothing Democrats," Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Pompeo has appointed several Republican foreign policy leaders who signed "Never Trump" letters to senior roles at the department: Elliott Abrams as special envoy for Venezuela, Brian Hook as senior adviser and special envoy for Iran, and Jim Jeffrey, the special envoy for Syria who spent two days on Capitol Hill defending Trump's Syria policy to angry lawmakers.
There's no evidence that Taylor, who has served under Republican and Democratic administrations since 1985 and was served as George W. Bush's ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, is a "Never Trumper."
After Yovanovitch was ousted, Pompeo is the one that convinced him to take the job as top diplomat to Ukraine in May and June, after assuring him "that the policy of strong support for Ukraine would continue and that he would support me in defending that policy," Taylor testified Tuesday.
Pompeo has asserted that none of Giuliani and Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations were improper, citing decades of corruption in Ukraine, and, despite those security assistance funds being withheld, said that the Trump administration has been stronger and more supportive of Ukraine than its predecessor.
Pompeo is in Kansas with Ivanka Trump, the president's senior adviser and daughter, to tour an aviation training facility, meet with students, and sign a "Pledge to America's Workers."
"It's awesome to be back home," he told a round table of students and local lawmakers.