Pompeo Loses His Temper at Question About Trump
Posted May 24, 2018 8:22 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday dismissed as “bizarre” and “outrageous” a Democratic senator’s question about whether President Donald Trump’s business interests could be affecting his administration’s foreign policy.
In an exchange before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo grew testy when Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked how Trump’s finances might impact his foreign policy decisions.
It was the second time in two days that the nation’s new chief diplomat displayed a flash of anger during congressional testimony.
“Given that the president refuses to disclose his tax returns, how can you assure the American people that American foreign policy is free of his personal conflicts of interest?” Udall asked.
Pompeo first dismissed the question as “bizarre” and then grew heated.
“I have been incredibly involved in this administration’s foreign policy now for some 16 months, and I have seen literally no evidence of what you are scurrilously, scurrilously suggesting,” Pompeo said, and then added: “It is an outrageous suggestion.”
At a hearing Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Pompeo also got into a testy exchange with a top Democrat. That time, he was defending his blistering criticism of Hillary Clinton in 2015 when he was a conservative congressman from Kansas.
The question from Udall was pointed, but it was hardly the first time potential conflicts of interest have been raised between Trump’s overseas businesses and his administration’s foreign policy.
Recently, the Trump Organization’s partner in an Indonesian development project struck a deal with a Chinese state-owned company. Around the same time, Trump reversed course on punishing sanctions levied on ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications company, saying he had directed the Commerce Department to resolve the issue to save Chinese jobs.
There is no indication that Trump or the Trump Organization helped to arrange the Chinese role in the Indonesian project, and no evidence has emerged that the president’s reversal on ZTE had anything to do with the Chinese investment.
But critics have long pointed out that Trump’s decision to retain his global real estate business while serving in the White House makes such questions inevitable.
Pompeo’s reactions to questions about the president reflect the delicate balance many of Trump’s top aides must strike in his defense. Trump often makes demonstrably false claims that even his press secretary sometimes refuses to address.
Pompeo’s sometimes brash and usually direct style endeared him to Trump, which is why he was chosen to jump from being CIA director to secretary of state.
But flashes of temper are generally frowned upon during congressional hearings, where an old-style sense of decorum still pervades even amid partisan acrimony.
The hearings Wednesday and Thursday were originally intended as discussions of the Trump administration’s budget requests for the State Department. But the administration’s proposals to make deep cuts to diplomatic and development efforts have met bipartisan resistance on Capitol Hill, so the hearings have pivoted almost immediately to other matters.
In his opening remarks, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was so dismissive of the administration’s budget request that he said even a discussion of it would not be “a productive use of our time today.”
Instead, Pompeo spent much of his time explaining why Trump on Thursday canceled his planned summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.
One problem, Pompeo said, was that North Korea refused even to talk to the team that he had assembled to prepare for the summit.