Pompeo to Defend Trump With ‘Proof’ of Administration’s Actions vs. Russia
On the election interference in particular, Mr. Pompeo will tell the committee that the president accepts the findings that the Russian cyberattacks took place, and that he “has a complete and proper understanding of what happened.” Mr. Trump, he will insist, deeply respects the work of the intelligence community — a notion the president left in doubt in Helsinki when he said he had to weigh its assertions about election interference against Mr. Putin’s strong denials that it took place.
Mr. Pompeo also plans to offer what he calls “proof that President Trump holds Russia accountable when warranted,” including the imposition of sanctions, the expulsion of diplomats and closing of a consulate, and the provision of arms to Ukraine, where the military is fighting Russian-backed separatists, among other steps.
“If that is not enough for you,” Mr. Pompeo says in his planned remarks that he has brought the committee a long list of other actions the administration has taken against Russia.
And Mr. Pompeo pointed to a formal declaration, issued by the State Department just before he was scheduled to speak, that refused to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and said it was “in contravention of international law.” The statement confirmed what had already been the policy of the Trump administration, after Mr. Trump has seemed to equivocate about his position and amid assertions by Russian officials that he and Mr. Putin discussed determining the fate of the region through a referendum.
The big question from lawmakers: What happened in Helsinki?
More than a week has passed since Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin met in Helsinki, Finland, but lawmakers still want answers to basic questions: What did they talk about? What, if anything, was agreed to?
Mr. Trump was accompanied in the meeting only by an interpreter. Exactly what was said on topics such as Ukraine and Syria, as well as Russian interference in the 2016 election in the United States, remains a mystery. Mr. Trump’s conflicting statements since then have not helped matters.
Mr. Pompeo did not attend the meeting, but he will be expected to shed some light on the secretive discussion.
“Every committee member will have a chance to grill him to find out what happened in that meeting,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said last week.
“I look forward to doing the same,” he added. “I don’t know what happened.”
The meeting was ‘incredibly important,’ Pompeo says.
Mr. Pompeo said on Tuesday that he had spoken to Mr. Trump about the Helsinki meeting, and that he had also spoken to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.
“The president’s been clear about some of the things that were agreed to,” Mr. Pompeo said. He called the meeting “incredibly important” and one that “the world will have benefited from when history is written.”
When he testifies, Mr. Pompeo is very likely to echo the president in arguing that the Trump administration has, in fact, been tough on Russia, despite criticism otherwise.
“We’ll testify about a lot of things, including the relationship between the United States and Russia,” he said, adding: “I think one of the things that gets lost is the determination that this administration has had in pushing back against Russian malign behavior around the world.”
Among those steps, according to a senior government official on Wednesday, is a new statement to formally clarify that the Trump administration does not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Most of the world and international bodies — including the United States, Europe, the United Nation and NATO — do not recognize Russia’s seizing of the Ukrainian peninsula.
The Trump administration has repeatedly said in the past that it does not recognize Crimea as part of Russia. But Mr. Trump said during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would consider recognizing the annexation. And after the meeting in Helsinki, the Russian ambassador to the United States said that the presidents had privately discussed the possibility of a referendum to determine the future of Ukraine. But a White House spokesman for the National Security Council rejected any such referendum, saying it would have “no legitimacy.”
A Trump critic is back in the spotlight.
Among Republican lawmakers, Mr. Corker has been one of the most candid in talking critically about Mr. Trump. Wednesday’s hearing gives Mr. Corker a platform to offer an appraisal of some of the president’s recent actions on the world stage.
There is reason to expect he will unburden himself of some disapproving thoughts.
Mr. Corker was clearly distressed after Mr. Trump offered harsh words for NATO allies this month. And after Mr. Trump’s performance in Helsinki, Mr. Corker openly guessed that Mr. Putin was celebrating by having caviar.
Mr. Corker, who is not seeking re-election and therefore is less encumbered when it comes to criticizing the president, signaled that he would not hold back when Mr. Pompeo appears before his committee.
“On challenging what happened at NATO, what happened in Helsinki, I will take a back seat to no one in this body,” Mr. Corker said.
Senators are pushing for new sanctions.
Beyond demanding answers about what happened during the Trump-Putin meeting, lawmakers also have been talking about taking additional actions to counter Russian aggression.
Look for discussion in the Senate hearing about what concrete steps Congress could take on that front.
On Tuesday, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, outlined legislation they are preparing to put new sanctions on Russia.
The additional sanctions, the senators said in a joint statement, are intended to “ensure the maximum impact on the Kremlin’s campaign against our democracy and the rules-based international order.”
There’s also the matter of North Korea.
It was only six weeks ago that Mr. Trump met with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Mr. Menendez noted last week that the panel had originally sought for Mr. Pompeo to appear to discuss the North Korea summit, which was held in Singapore in June.
Expect that subject to come up as well.
“Is America any safer from the threat of North Korea?” Mr. Menendez asked. “We have no idea.”
News credit : Nytimes