'I'll do everything I'm required to do by law': Pompeo on whether he will testify

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is interviewed on "This Week" Sunday on Syria and the impeachment inquiry.
18:02 | 10/20/19

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Transcript for 'I'll do everything I'm required to do by law': Pompeo on whether he will testify
And we are joined now by the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Thank you for joining us this morning, secretary Pompeo. Let me begin with what we just heard from that kurdish commander who says the kurds are not happy, that this is a betrayal that she fears will lead to genocide. George, we need to go back to where this all began for the trump administration. It began with a situation in Syria where the previous president had drawn a red line and failed to enforce it. It began with 4 million people internally displaced or even as many as 6 million people, half a million people killed. This administration came in when ISIS was on the rise. You remember, George, there people were in cages with their heads being cut off. This administration worked seriously alongside the sdf forces and our allies as well to build a coalition force and take down that caliphate. Now the president believes we've accomplished a significant part of our mission and he wants our folks to come home and we're beginning to work on that. This week the vice president and I traveled to Ankara after Turkey made its decision against the president's desire to make an incursion into Syria and we put out a joint statement which we think will really save lives. It's worked so far. There's much work to be done to continue to implement it but we're optimistic. I got a report within the last half-hour from my senior leaders who indicate that there's relatively little fighting. Little spar sporadic small arms fire, a mortar or two. We got wounded in a town last night and we're hoping that the forces will move out of those towns and this cease-fire that the Turkish leaders agreed to -- The question will be how far they have to remove but as you know, the feelings of betrayal stated by the kurdish commander right there echoed by many of the president's allies in congress. We saw Mitch Mcconnell, the Republican leader, saying withdrawing from Syria is a grave mistake. He calls it a strategic nightmare. Lindsey graham has raised concerns as well, as was senator Marco Rubio on the senate floor. Listen. We got these 2,000 troops working with the kurds to keep ISIS from reemerging and to provide leverage in a future Syrian settlement to restrain Assad's power to safeguard's kurdish interests, our partner's interest and eliminate Iranian influence. Every sichkle one of those stated interests that was our policy less than two weeks ago has been wiped out. Senator Rubio was your first choice for president back in 2015. You cited the success you felt against ISIS over the last couple of years. The concern is that there's going to be backtracking on that now that we've abandoned the allies we were fighting with against ISIS. George, I listened closely to what senator Rubio said. Each of the interests that he identified, this administration is still fully committed to. I can assure you that the effort to push back against Iran are real and continuous, unlike what the last administration did that picked Iran as its strategic security partner in the middle East. We've taken an incredibly different approach to that. The islamic republic of Iran is feeling it and security, stability in the Middle East is increased because of the work we've done. The counter ISIS campaign, I'm proud of the work that our team has done under president trump's leadership. Not only in countering ISIS in Syria -- you know, George, Syria's been a mess for an awful long time. We've been serious about it, thoughtful and strategic and we will continue to make sure that we take the primary effort which is to make sure we keep the American people safe from the threats from radical islamic terrorism wherever we find it. Didn't the president put those gains at risk by pulling the troops out? We saw the fighting immediately. I'm very confident that this administration's efforts to crush ISIS will continue. And Lindsey graham raises the other concern as the kurds are withdrawing from that border with Turkey, that it would lead to a military occupation that displaces hundreds of thousands. He says that's not a safe zone. It's ethnic cleansing. Can you assure the kurdish people and the president's allies in congress that you will not be party to ethnic cleansing? George, we were very clear and the vice president could not have been more clear when we were speaking with president erdogan. Go take a look at the statement that was released jointly. No fewer than three of the paragraphs were aimed squarely at ensuring that in this space, this Turkish controlled space, that there wouldn't be attacks on minorities, that this was about getting a cease-fire, a secure area, and that this, in fact, will save lives in that very space. That was our mission set. We accomplished it and now we made to make sure that the commitments were honored. The Turks said they got everything that they wanted. Yeah, I was there. It sure didn't feel that way when we were negotiating. It was a hard fought negotiation. It began even before the vice president and I arrived in Ankara. It lasted hours while we were there. We achieved the outcome that president trump sent us to achieve. Let me move on now to the situation in Ukraine and that press conference by Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, on Thursday where he said the decision to withhold the military, that it was in part conditioned on the Ukraine pursuing a political investigation for president trump. Here's what he said. Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption that related to the DNC server, absolutely, no question about that, but that's it. That's why we held up the money. So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he -- It was not to withhold funding to the Ukraine. The look back to what happened in 2016 was part of the things that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. Withholding the funding? Yeah. Which ultimately then flowed. Pretty startling admission right there, drawing some criticism from Democrats certainly but also some Republicans in the senate including Lisa murkowski, senator Lisa murkowski, who said, quote, you don't hold up foreign aid that we had previously prortd for political initiative, period. Is senator murkowski correct? George, I never saw that in the decision-making process that I was a part of, the decision surrounding whether there should be department of defense assistance as well as state department assistance provided to push back against Russia. The conversation was always around what were the strategic implications. Would that money get to the right place or would there be corruption in the Ukraine and the money wouldn't flow to the mission that it was intended for. How do we protect that. Is it appropriate for us to provide defensive weapons. George, you'll remember, I don't know why Barack Obama held up that funding. Maybe he had a theory too. I don't know. He never provided it. This administration has done it not once, not twice but now three times. But president trump -- The people in Ukraine are safer and more secure as a result of that and the Russians certainly don't appreciate it. President trump ordered Mick Mulvaney to suspend the aid and you saw Mr. Mulvaney right there say that one of the reasons was indeed this idea that the Ukrainians had to pursue these political investigations. I'll leave it to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended. I can speak clearly to what America's strategic objectives were in providing this defensive weaponry to the people of Ukraine. Do you agree then with senator murkowski that it would have been inappropriate to withhold military aid unless this political investigation was pursued? George, I'm telling you what I was involved with. I'm telling you what I saw transpiring and how president trump was working to make the evaluation about whether it was appropriate to provide this assistance. What I'm asking is would it be appropriate to condition -- I'm not going to get into hypotheticals and secondary things based on what someone else has said. George, you would have never done it had when you were the spokesman. I'm not going to do it today. Except it's not a hypothetical -- George, you just said if this happened. That is by definition a hypothetical. The chief of staff said it did. George, you asked me if this happened. It's a hypothetical. I've told you what I observed, what I saw the process related to this very funding. What we did and how we thought about that was aimed at the strategic interests of the United States of America, the right and appropriate way to ensure that there wasn't corruption in Ukraine that would divert these resources to an inappropriate place. The evidence in testimony is also establishing that the president's meeting with president zelensky was being conditioned on him pursuing those political investigations. Were you aware of that? Did you approve? George, I haven't had a chance to see the evidence that chance to seas being accumulated. I wish that I could. I frankly wish that state department lawyers were being permitted in the room to hear testimony from state department officials. This is deeply unfair to the officers that serve under me. It's wrong. I can't comment on what they're saying because I have not been permitted to either have a lawyer present or to see the recorded transcripts or the translations of what was said. I can't comment on what people may or may not be saying in that room. Frankly, you can't either. You weren't there either, George. I've read the reports and we've seen the testimony. You've seen leaked reporting from Democrats. That's right, George. Some of the testimony has been released by the witnesses themselves and of course the state department is not complying with some of the subpoenas for documents as well. And we do know that so much -- and this is by his own admission -- that so much of this activity was being carried out by the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Was he acting with your blessing and supervision? George, I've had one consistent policy as the secretary of state to not talk about internal deliberations inside the administration. I'm not going to change that policy this morning. But this was different. This is not a member of the administration. This is the president's personal lawyer who was pursuing this at the president's direction and going around the normal state department procedures. George, private citizens often are part of executing American foreign policy. You know that. You lived that. You want to talk about Sydney bloomenthal for a while, George? Let's go. I can go all day. Mr. Secretary, of course there have been special envoys for presidents in the past. Of course there have. All the time, George, all the time. Bill Richardson does this kind of work all the time. Lots of good, patriotic Americans are working to assist the state department, the department of energy, to get good outcomes for the American people. This is completely appropriate. They generally have formal appointments. They generally go through reviews for conflicts of interest. We now know that Rudy Giuliani, mayor Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, was pursuing business interests in the Ukraine at the time he was acting an the president's special envoy. Doesn't that create at least the appearance of a conflict of interest? I missed Sydney bloomenthal's conflict of interest clearance. You must have seen that. I did not. Was there a review of the conflicts for mayor Giuliani? I don't talk about white house deliberations. We do know that he collected a dossier of materials and passed it to you through the white house. What did you do with it? That's true. I received a set of materials. It was in a sealed envelope. I passed it to the appropriate persons inside the state department for their review. I never reviewed them. You didn't look at them? I did not. Did you know what Rudy Giuliani was doing? George, I don't talk about internal deliberations inside the administration. He said publicly and there's been corroborating testimony from several others, including some of the people you worked with in the state department in the foreign service, that he pushed hard for the removal of ambassador Marie yovanovitch from her post as ambassador to Ukraine, circulated a series of false, what she called defamatory charges against her. Were you aware of that? George, let's talk about ambassador yovanovitch for just a minute. She was withdrawn from her post a handful of weeks early. She still works at the state department. She's a foreign service officer in good standing. You know this, George, ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the president. When a president loses confidence in an ambassador, it's not in that ambassador, the state department or America's best interest for them to continue to stay in their post. She testified and put out this testimony that in late April she met with John Sullivan who told her she was being removed even though she did nothing wrong. That's a quote. Why did you approve the removal of an ambassador who had done nothing wrong? I'm not going to get into personal matters inside the state department. I've not done it and I'm not going to do it for you here this morning. She's saying she's being defamed because of this. She's saying she was told there had been a pressure campaign, that deputy secretary Sullivan said there had been a pressure campaign since the summer of 2018 against her led by the president. Many foreign services professionals say that you have a duty to speak up for her, that you have a duty to protect her in that position. George, in good time all the facts surrounding each of these incidents will become clear. It's not appropriate for me to comment on all the things that happen inside a personnel decision. None of our foreign service officers would welcome the secretary of state talking about why someone stayed, why someone was removed, why someone was transferred. It wouldn't be appropriate. If we get into it once -- Why wouldn't it be appropriate? I just won't do that, George. But sir, if someone is -- if false things are being said about one of your professionals, don't you have a duty to stand up and speak out on behalf of that professional? George, no secretary of state has defended its team, its team members, has done things that served them well, that took care of their families, that made sure that they were getting promotions. We have, by the end of this year we have, by the end of this year more foreign service officers on duty than at any time, at any time, George, a couple hundred years of the state department, at any time in the state department's history. We've done great things for these officers. I see these stories about morale being low. I see things precisely the opposite. I see motivated officers. I've watched them perform in Syria this week, I've watched them perform in difficult situations during my year and a half as secretary of state. I'm incredibly proud of the work they've done and I will always defend them when it's appropriate. That may be, sir, and your senior adviser, Mike Mckinley, who also testified on capitol hill this week did praise many aspects of your leadership but pointed out that he tried very hard to get a statement of support for the ambassador after the July 25th phone call which you were on with president trump where he called her bad news. Yet that statement didn't come. So, Mike Mckinley served me well for a year and a half. I chose him. I had people tell me he was a great foreign service officer and in fact he served America wonderfully for 37 years. He in fact had the office that was just behind mine, had a door that he could walk in at any time and say whatever he wanted. From the time that ambassador yovanovitch departed Ukraine until the time that he came to tell me that he was departing, I never heard him say a single thing about his concerns. So you were asked -- Not once, George, did ambassador Mckinley say something to me during that entire time period. You were never asked to put out a statement in support of ambassador yovanovitch? George, again, I'm not going to talk about private conversations that I had with my most trusted advisers. I think it's most appropriate that trusted advisers keep these conversations precisely where they are. Imagine if it becomes commonplace that a secretary of state would talk about things that his closest advisers said to him. I think you would agree, George, that that advice would change. People would be reluctant to speak. It wouldn't be appropriate. I don't intend to do that. This is not a commonplace situation as you know. You have drawn criticism from professionals. Bill burns who is the former depthsy secretary of state, served for democratic and Republican presidents over 30 years wrote an article called "The demolition of U.S. Diplomacy." Here's how he described what you allowed with ambassador yovanovtch. Secretary Pompeo allowed specious opposition research about yovanovitch to circulate around the department and sat on his hands as trump slandered her on the infamous call with president zelensky and warned ominously that she's going to, quote, go through some things. He goes on to say the ghost of Roy Cohn was smiling somewhere, comparing it to mccarthyism. Your response? That's crazy. I think bill burns must be auditioning to be Elizabeth Warren's secretary of state. Sir, the question is, did you speak -- I mean, people have opinions, George. Everyone's entitled to theirs. Bill burns is clearly looking for a spot in the next administration. That's fine. He's entitled to that view. I have to tell you, I've had a number of foreign service officers walk into my office and tell me how much they appreciate the way we're handling this process. Finally, sir, one more quote from Mick Mulvaney on Thursday where he was describing how he saw the foreign service professionals going up to testify on capitol hill this week. Let's listen. What you're seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying I don't like president trump's politics so I'm going to participate in this witch hunt that they're undertaking on the hill. Is that how you view those who are testifying? No. I have a different view. My view is that each of us has a solemn responsibility to defend the constitution and to speak the truth. I said this the other day, I hope those officers who go to capitol hill will speak truthfully, that they'll speak completely. I only wish that this was a process that merited such a response. This has been unfair in the Nth degree. We have officers there to testify about important security related matters without a state department lawyer in the room and we're not being allowed to know what it says. We're not able to protect the state department. We're not able to protect the United States of America. And Adam Schiff ought to be embarrassed by the kangaroo court he's running. Will you testify if you're called by the committee? I've said all along I'll do everything I'm required to do by law. Secretary Pompeo, thanks for your time this morning. Thank you, George.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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