QUESTION: Let’s bring in the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who had a previous event that had him in Kansas. How hard was it for you, Mr. Secretary of State, to not be in the situation room during this moment?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Would have loved to have been there, but I was in close touch with the leaders who were in there. State Department was fully engaged making sure we were delivering the things that we needed to for what was an amazing military operation that night, a remarkable turn of events which will have real impact all across the world.
This will be felt all across the world, understanding that America’s capacity to deliver, to reach out, and to take down terrorist leaders wherever they may hide at any time – this is something that will have an important message and will create what President Trump has demanded that we create: a safe environment here in the United States where America is known as the preeminent counterterrorism leader all around the world.
QUESTION: Right. Ultimately, we’re talking about safety here in the United States, but this mission, Mr. Secretary, was very dangerous and daring as well because the – we were just talking with Rob O’Neill about it. They had eight choppers, flew hundreds of miles in the dark through airspace that was controlled by Iraq, Turkey, and Russia. Can you tell us a little bit about how the United States reaches out to these countries to de-conflict that airspace so we can fly through it and get the bad guy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Steve, that’s a great question. We coordinated this. We’d known for a little while what we were intending to do. This is something that’s been on the top of the President’s priority list for an awfully long time. I remember my first day as the CIA director, when President Trump looked me in the eye and said, “I want this guy. I want Hamza bin Laden; I want Baghdadi.” There were a couple others on the list too. He made very clear that this was a priority.
And so in the run-up to this, we collectively – the Department of Defense and the State Department were working diligently to make sure that our operations could proceed. I think it’s been made pretty clear that we were traveling into airspace that wasn’t U.S.-controlled, and so even that night I reached out to our Russian counterpart to make clear to them our expectations with respect to us being able to get our forces where we needed to get them, when we needed to get them, and then get them out safely. It was good work by the entire breadth and scope of the United States Government.
QUESTION: They did an excellent job. It’s U.S. Special Operations Forces, and the President wanted to make sure he thanked them in that 50 minutes news – 50-minute news conference. Listen to this.
“PRESIDENT TRUMP: This was a very, very dangerous mission.
Thank you, as well, to the great intelligence professionals who helped make this very successful journey possible.
I want to thank the soldiers, and sailors, airmen, and Marines involved in last tonight’s operation. You are the very best there is anywhere in the world. No matter where you go, there is nobody even close.”
QUESTION: Yeah, Mr. Secretary, what’s your reaction to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the President got it exactly right. A long time ago I was a young soldier, but I never was able to accomplish something like what these folks did on the target these past 24 hours. It was truly remarkable. The President nailed it. These are America’s finest. They performed an incredibly difficult mission – frankly, some cases, made it look really easy, right. Everybody talks now about how easy this was. There was nothing easy about this mission. These folks went into harm’s way.
We had really good intelligence. The intelligence teams have been working on this for an awfully long time to deliver an intelligence picture that would enable them to go, to know what they were going to find when they got there. The intelligence was really good, but the execution by America’s most elite forces. Some of the brave men and women that come from all across America demonstrate the remarkable nature of the United States.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the word is – and you can disabuse me of this if the reports aren’t true – but the first time there was an eyewitness seeing al-Baghdadi in the area was the Syrian Kurds, and they reported back and it was this summer, and you guys started following up on all this. How much do you fear losing those eyes and ears as we lose contact with the Syrian Kurds in a major way in these next coming months? Because that’s happened over the last few weeks.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, Brian, that’s a great question. I have enormous confidence that we’ll have intelligence professionals where we need them, we’ll be able to reach them. I know – I know some about – I can’t talk in great detail about it. I was the CIA director for about a year and a half. I have a pretty good sense of how those operations, those intelligence operations, are conducted. It’s complex, it’s sophisticated, it is broad, it is deep. I’m very confident that we’ll be able to maintain the context we need so that we will – and we will need to do this. The challenge of radical Islamic extremism has not gone away. We’ll still have the information, the intelligence that we need, so that we can continue to undertake this absolutely vital mission for American national security.
QUESTION: Well, that’s good.
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President would have it no other way, Brian.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, this particular mission was – the codename was – it was named after Kayla Mueller, the American who died in ISIS custody. She was repeatedly assaulted by this guy. Her mother, Marsha, was speaking to the Arizona Republic newspaper and said this: “I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been. For me what matters most, I’m hoping now we will finally get the answers we have been asking for all along. I think this administration truly might help us. I don’t think they are as closed about what happened.”
Your observation about Mrs. Mueller’s lament about the treatment of her daughter?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. I have a deep and abiding love for what she said and who she is and what they’ve gone through and what Kayla Mueller went through. I am hopeful that what happened this weekend provides just a little bit of justice. It never replaces what took place. It never – it can’t substitute for the harm that Baghdadi brought on Kayla Mueller.
But know this: Know that the United States is, in fact, open. I remember most clearly the President talking about how we were going to get hostages back, and we’ve done great work. The President talked about how we were going to take down terrorism wherever we found it. It wasn’t just this mission. He gave the tools. He gave the intelligence team, the team that I had the chance to lead – he gave us all the authority, all the capacity. He changed the rules of engagement so that we could develop the situation, so that we could conduct missions just like the one that was conducted this past weekend.
The President enabled us to go take down terrorists wherever we find them, to save lives, to bring back hostages. These are all amazing things – a big change from what was taking place in the previous administration.
QUESTION: Kayla was only 26 years old. She was an American Christian human rights activist. She was outside of a hospital in Aleppo when they kidnapped her. She refused to convert to Islam, and she died in coalition airstrikes back in 2015. There is a picture of her. Bless her heart.
The media – the media bias began just within minutes after President Trump made this announcement. We have an example of that. The Washington Post – people were just up in arms about this. The first headline said, “Baghdadi, Islamic State’s Terrorist-in-Chief, Dies at 48.” Then they changed the headline to read that he was an “Austere Religious Scholar at Helm of Islamic State, Dies at 48.” Your reaction?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, I think it’s appalling and sick, the fact that they have frankly not apologized for taking this man who was the head of a terrorist organization that beheaded people, that did the kind of things that we were just talking about with respect to Kayla Mueller, who led a caliphate that threatened large pieces of the Middle East and indeed presented risk to the United States of America – the fact that a national newspaper would describe this person as an “austere scholar” in their headline in the immediate aftermath of the achievements of President Trump and the administration is truly appalling.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you were in Kansas again. A lot of people were speculating, and you’ve thought about running for Senate. When would you make that decision to whether you want to run or not? I know for Republicans they look at that seat as extremely valuable. Mitch McConnell, if he had his druthers, you’d go ahead and run for that seat. When would you do that? When would you make that decision?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Brian, the decision’s been made. I’ve talked about this many times. I’m going to continue to be America’s Secretary of State as long as President Trump wants to have me on the team. It’s an enormous privilege. You get the chance to serve a President who is engaged in activity just like we saw this weekend, keeping America safe. I want to be part of that.
QUESTION: I don’t blame you. Real quickly, Nancy Pelosi is unhappy that she was not dialed into the operation. The President said Washington is a “leaking machine.” What do you say about that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there were only a handful of us that were dialed into this operation, myself and a handful of others, and then those, of course, who were executing the mission, in the run-up to this. We were focused on two things in the run-up to what took place this weekend. First, making sure that the information that we had, the knowledge that we had – we’ve been tracking this guy for a long time, we wanted to take no risk that anyone would ever compromise the operation, so we were very focused on information security. Second, we wanted to make sure we were doing it right, and so we were focused on delivering the outcome that we got. That’s what the American people should be focused on. It’s what President Trump and our team were focused on all of the days leading up to this mission.
QUESTION: It’s going to be an exciting week. Mr. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, thank you so much for your time.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all. Have a good day.
QUESTION: You, too.