Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday defended his relationship with President Donald Trump amid fresh interest in his biting critiques of then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential race and renewed scrutiny of his ferocious loyalty to the president.
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While Pompeo says he will remain as the top U.S. diplomat for as long as Trump wants, many supporters and critics see the 55-year old former congressman and CIA director as charting his own political future that will likely include a presidential campaign of his own down the road.
In 2016, Pompeo was a Tea Party conservative serving in the House of Representatives, known best for his pugnacious role sparring with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings. He was also an ardent opponent of Trump and a supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio.
His stance was widely known. But in a March 2016 video published by the New Yorker magazine Monday, Pompeo is seen blasting Trump ahead of the Kansas primary and comparing him to President Barack Obama: "We've spent seven and a half years with an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution. We don't need four more years of that."
Pompeo laughed off the comments Tuesday, saying, "It was a tough political campaign and when I'm on your team, I am all in, as I was, and when my candidate left, I was all in for President Trump then as well."
He pledged loyalty to serving in Trump's administration for "as long as President Trump continues to want me to be his Secretary of State." Despite again ruling out a run for Kansas's open Senate seat next year, speculation that he will jump in the race late continues. The latest tea leave to some analysts is a meeting he had Tuesday in New York with the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, a conservative economic advocacy group.
President Trump "is my leader ... I would love to serve for him just as long as I can," Pompeo said on "CBS This Morning" Tuesday.
But to critics, that loyalty has gone too far at times. Pompeo is known to be sensitive to any remark or question about differences between him and Trump and in private is reportedly "among the most sycophantic and obsequious people around Trump," a former senior White House official told the New Yorker.
One anonymous former ambassador went further, comparing Pompeo to a "heat-seeking missile for Trump's" rear end, according to the New Yorker, although the official used a slang word.
Pompeo dismissed that as "offensive" language and a "ludicrous" statement, and he said he shares his disagreements with Trump "with great frequency."
"But when he makes a decision, and it's legal, it is my task to go execute that with all the energy and power that I have," Pompeo added.
Pompeo's predecessor has said Trump repeatedly asked for things that were illegal.
"So often, the president would say here's what I want to do and here's how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, 'Mr. President I understand what you want to do, but you can't do it that way. It violates the law," former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in December, nine months after he was fired by Trump over their many disagreements on foreign policy.
After Tillerson made those comments, Trump tweeted that he was "dumb as a rock" and that Pompeo was "doing a great job, I am very proud of him."