QUESTION: Secretary Mike Pompeo, thank you for joining us, Secretary of State. Boy, you are a busy man lately. Every few days or so I see President Trump is having lunch with Secretary Pompeo.
I think this week the big news – aside from the Ukraine stuff, I’d like to start with Syria and the decision to pull out of Syria. It created a lot of waves, I guess, on both sides of the aisle. I saw a couple Republicans even having a bit of a problem with it.
Can you tell us what went into the decision to pull out of Syria?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure. And first of all, thanks for having me on. It’s great to be with you again, Eric.
The President has been incredibly focused since he came into office on getting the Middle East right. He campaigned on ending these endless wars. And in Syria, we’ve had a team there that was designed to take down the caliphate, right?
We saw – when we came into office, the previous administration we had people being beheaded, in cages. You remember all this. It seems like an awfully long time ago. But in fact, we successfully – along with allies and partners in the region – took down the entire caliphate. That mission is now complete.
It is not that ISIS is eliminated. That challenge still remains. But the President firmly believes it is now time that we reprioritize, that we, in fact, protect America first, and that we get our force posture in the Middle East just right.
And then on this decision this past week with respect to Syria, President Erdogan had made clear he was going to begin to move forces south, and the President made the decision to move back several dozen American troops to make sure that they were out of harm’s way. And, indeed, within the last few hours, the Turkish assault across that very line that he told President Trump he was going to do has now commenced.
QUESTION: And I’ve always been on record as saying I don’t understand why we’re involved in these Middle East wars. I completely agree with President Trump and yourself for pulling out of Syria. I wish we’d get out of some of the other ones, as well. But here’s my question: Are we putting the Kurds at risk? Clearly, an American ally. Was there a discussion with the Kurds that we were about to do this? Were they prepared for this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So a couple of things. The President has made clear for a long time that this was ultimately our objective – to get to this place where there were fewer American forces in the region. And so in that sense, I think it’s been widely known to the whole world that ultimately we would get there.
We’ve been working to create a safe zone in the space there between the two. The Kurds have done great work. But you have to remember, too, Turkey is a NATO ally. They are a partner in the West and have been for an awfully long time.
And so to strike the right balance, to get this right, the President has said we’re not going to – I think he tweeted yesterday, we’re not going to abandon the Kurds. That’s absolutely the case. We think we can achieve both of those objectives.
QUESTION: Erdogan, do you think – do you think you and President Trump can trust Erdogan?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I always think when it comes to foreign policy, it’s about verification. People ask this question about trust all the time. My observation now having been the Secretary of State for a little over a year and a half is that what you do is you work to put mechanisms in place, you execute diplomacy such that you have the right incentives so people will continue to engage and nations will continue to engage on the things that keep America safe.
QUESTION: But my concern is, I remember from years of talking about this – and with Barack Obama, even – Turkey was almost a conduit for ISIS. They’d go and steal stuff in Iraq, and they’d go drive and sell it into Turkey. Is that a risk? Are we —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there a risk of ISIS reuniting into a force?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There’s lots of risks from radical Islamic terrorism all around the world. It’s certainly the case that the President is mindful that ISIS might begin to rise up again. And so the President has said, when they do, we’ll come back and we’ll get this. We will – we will go where we need to go to keep the American people safe from the treat of radical Islamic terrorism, whether that’s in Syria or Afghanistan. We’re going to get it right. We’re going to keep the American people safe.
But when we’re done, when we’ve accomplished our mission, we’re going to get our boys and girls home.
QUESTION: There you go. The other topic du jour, of the week, the Ukraine investigation, the impeachment inquiry. Where is it going from here? Tell us, you’ve been subpoenaed. Other members of the State Department have said they’re concerned about being subpoenaed. And I think the President and the administration has said, “We will not comply.”
At one – will there be a situation where you will testify and turn over documents? I think there was something attached to whether or not Adam Schiff is pulled from the House Intelligence Committee.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ll all ultimately allow the lawyers – the White House made a decision yesterday, they issued an extended letter talking about this process that the House is engaged in, making clear that the White House’s view is that this is not a legitimate impeachment proceeding. We’ll take our guidance from them in terms of how we respond, but I’ve also make clear to my team here at the State Department: We have a mission. We still have a mission in Ukraine. We still have objectives. I think about what the previous administration did, where they allowed the Russians to take one-fifth of Ukraine. Look at the results that President Trump has achieved with respect to Ukraine. We’ve provided them defensive systems; we have pushed back against Vladimir Putin. Our team should be proud of the work that they’ve done between the United States and Ukraine over the last – goodness – two and a half years.
QUESTION: Secretary, it came out later that you were on the phone call that everyone’s so concerned about between the Ukraine president and President Trump. Were you concerned when you were listening in originally?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the phone call is out there. People – it’s like a Rorschach test for America. People read the phone call and see very different things. I was on the call; I’m on scores and scores of calls with foreign leaders alongside the President. I know what the President had been trying to accomplish with Ukraine. He’s been very concerned about their corruption. He has often asked the question: Should American taxpayers’ dollars be used in Ukraine, or should we not ask those countries most directly involved – the Europeans, the French, the Germans, the Poles, those that are much closer to the theater where Russia could pose a threat? Shouldn’t they be engaged first and to a greater degree?
When I was working with the President on Ukraine, those were the topics that we addressed. And I think we should be proud of what we’ve achieved there.
QUESTION: And I don’t know, and I watch a lot of cable news, and I watch a lot of cable news hosts getting all up in arms about what actually was said. Can you explain to – we have a vast audience. We have the whole country blanketed, with the exception of a couple cities. Will you explain to us what they believe was so wrong with asking a foreign government to tie up some loose ends with some corruption with an American?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I said this the other day. There’s been this idea that – somehow that it’s unacceptable to ask other countries to do things that are in America’s best interests. It’s what I do all day, literally. The task of diplomats is to work with other countries to achieve things that are in the best interests of America. And sometimes America has to make commitments, they will do something so that you can get what it is you need. And I’ve watched this President. We need to make sure we give our leaders – whether it’s this president, the next one, or those before – give them all the space they need to engage in activity that benefits the United States of America. And if that means calling out corruption in a particular country and asking them to clean that up, that seems more than appropriate to me.
QUESTION: One of the other countries on the list of things I wanted to talk to you about, China, this week the NBA had a dustup with China. The GM of the Rockets tweeted something about – in support of the protestors in Hong Kong. We saw Beijing pull back on some NBA deals that they had, broadcasting some of the NBA games and whatnot, and then they saw a consistently almost a – like dominoes falling. The president of the Houston Rockets, the commissioner of the NBA, Harden, the best player, and other companies – companies in America – caving to the Chinese simply batting their eye about a tweet. What’s our relationship with China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Eric, with respect to how businesses deal with China, that’s – it’s lawful, it’s within their rights to behave in the way they think is their own economic best interest. But I’d say a couple things. First, I think companies are waking up to the fact that while they may think they’re making money, the costs are enormous. The costs connected to kowtowing to Beijing in the way that we have seen too often engaged in is costly to those companies – costly to their reputations, and I think people are waking up to the – they’re seeing the long arm of Beijing reach out and put restrictions on them, restrictions that the United States of America would never do to any private sector business.
QUESTION: Let’s use a baseball analogy. What inning are we in in this trade war with China? Where – what’s the score, and what inning are we in?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m confident of this: We’ll ultimately win. If it’s a baseball game, I have great confidence in President Trump prevailing. But if you think about what he’s trying to accomplish, for an awfully long time the United States has had this unfair, nonreciprocal trade relationship with China, where they frankly stole jobs from my home back in Kansas, intellectual property, they forced technology to be transferred. And President Trump has just said enough.
QUESTION: I agree with him.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t know what inning we’re in.
QUESTION: I love what we’re doing with China.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think it’s the right move. You want fair trade.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s all the President’s asking for.
QUESTION: But what inning are we in? And are we close to winning this game? Because the markets, every day there’s a new headline out of this trade war with China, with Beijing, they’re up three, 400, 500, or down three, four, 500.
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President is driving our country to be on the march to the outcome which we’ll make sure that farmers in Iowa —
QUESTION: See, that’s why he’s – he won’t give – (laughter).
SECRETARY POMPEO: — technologists in New York and the Silicon Valley will be able to compete fairly. I hope we’re in the top of the ninth and that we’re close to being successful. There’s negotiations that’ll take place even this week – tomorrow, I think – and I hope that they make real progress.
QUESTION: All right. We’re going to keep – hold you over to the break. I’ll ask you some important questions about the President. Stay with us here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.
QUESTION: And welcome back. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thank you again for doing this. You probably are one of the closest people to the President of the United States. I’ve known him for 15 years. I know things like this impeachment inquiry bother him. When you’re with him, do you get a sense that this is changing him? Now, let’s be – we’re talking to the American people here. How could it not? You have a whole Senate – I mean, a whole House subcommittee – six committees investigating him, giving him a hard time. What’s his demeanor? What’s his feeling about this investigation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, look, I think you see it as he speaks to the American people each and every day, either when he takes questions from the media – I think he’s taken more questions than any previous president’s taken – or when you see his Twitter feed, you get a chance to see how he’s thinking about this.
He is convinced that he is delivering on behalf of the American people. I watch him. This noise impacts us all, right? It absolutely takes some of our time. We have to respond, and get questions. We want to be responsive to Congress; they have appropriate oversight responsibility. I was once a member there. We want to honor those.
But they do distract. They do take time. And they certainly take time for the President and his White House as well. But I’ve also seen this president in difficult situations, under things that ordinary folks would find so stressful they couldn’t perform, and I’ve watched President Trump in those situations always excel.
QUESTION: He has always taken a lot of information. He has advisors come in; he’ll talk to them. He’ll do kind of this thing – he’ll kind of look around and listen, and he takes it all in and makes his decisions. First of all, does he listen to Mike Pompeo?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, he sure does. Does he always agree with me? No.
QUESTION: What do you think – is there something that he’s done that you think he could have done differently?
SECRETARY POMPEO: In hindsight, I think we’d all say there were things we could get better. I’ve made recommendations to him that he’s rejected. Turned out he was right. I think our task is to make sure that we give our level-best shot every day, that our State Department delivers good information – a set of policy outcomes that are consistent with what he’s told the American people he’ll achieve. That’s what we keep working on.
But history will ultimately judge the results of what this administration has done. And I stare at the first two-and-a-half years and I’m incredibly proud of our foreign policy achievements.
QUESTION: Well, you are really highly respected out here in the community, in America. We’re frankly glad you’re there. One of your predecessors, maybe not so much. She ran for president a couple of times and now – she’s Hillary Clinton I’m mentioning. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Trump better be careful or she’s going to run for president again. Your thoughts?
I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have laughed. She said she may run for president if he’s not careful. Your thoughts on Hillary Clinton?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I don’t do politics these days. As the Secretary of State, I’ve got plenty to have my mind on, but I am confident that President Trump and his political team will be able to take on whatever’s the problem.
QUESTION: Let me ask you this way: Did Hillary Clinton pave the way for an easier job for Mike Pompeo, or a bit more difficult job cleaning up messes for Mike Pompeo?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, goodness, that’s an easy question to answer. When we took over across a broad range of issues, whether it was Korea or the terrible deal with Iran, ISIS on the rise – I could go through a list – we had a lot of work to do. There were many things that we had to turn around, risks to the American people that had been unaddressed in a serious way by the previous administration. And the good news is President Trump has given me and our entire national security team the authority and the capacity to go deliver on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: Want to grade Hillary Clinton Secretary of State A through F?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll let others do the grade.
QUESTION: Good enough. Mike Pompeo, thank you very much.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks, Eric.
QUESTION: Secretary of State, appreciate it.