POMPEO HEARING | Pompeo defends Trump on Russia, won't talk about Mueller


WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Pompeo, the CIA director nominated to be secretary of state, defended the Trump administration's efforts to push back on aggression from Russia at his confirmation hearing today while suggesting more sanctions on Moscow are still needed.

Yet he dodged repeatedly when Democrats tried to pin him down on President Donald Trump's handling of the special investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Pompeo confirmed for the first time publicly he's been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign and possible obstruction of justice issues. But he wouldn't answer questions about the contents of the interview, arguing it would be improper since, as CIA director in charge of overseas intelligence gathering, he has been a "participant" in Mueller's probe.

"I cooperated," Pompeo said.

Under questioning, he said he would be unlikely to resign as secretary of state if Trump were to fire Mueller. Lawmakers are concerned the president may seek Mueller's ouster to try to shut down the investigation, and the White House has said it believes Trump does have the authority to fire him if desired.

"My instincts tell me no," Pompeo said. "My instincts tell me my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important in times of domestic political turmoil."

As for the prospect of leading the State Department, Pompeo pledged to make the department as central to national security decisions as the intelligence agency he now heads.

Throughout the hearing, he drew a sharp contrast with his ousted predecessor, Rex Tillerson. He lamented the "demoralizing" vacancies at the top echelons of the department during Tillerson's tenure and said he planned to fill those vacancies, asking the Senate's help to get nominees confirmed.

He cast his close connection to Trump as an advantage that would help him restore the significance of the department.

11:25 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Pompeo, the former congressman-turned-CIA director chosen to be secretary of state today vowed to make the State Department as central to national security decisions as the CIA, drawing a sharp contrast with his ousted predecessor, Rex Tillerson.

In his Senate confirmation hearing, Pompeo lamented the "demoralizing" vacancies at the top echelons of the State Department that became a notorious hallmark of Tillerson's tenure. He said he planned to fill those vacancies, and asked for the Senate's help to get key positions confirmed.

Pompeo cast his close connection to the president as an advantage that would help him restore the significance of the State Department that waned during the first year of Trump's administration and drew alarm from lawmakers of both parties.

"My relationship with President Trump is due to one thing: we've demonstrated value to him at the CIA. So, in turn, he has come to rely on us," Pompeo said. "I intend to ensure that the Department of State will be just as central to the president's policies and the national security of the United States."

Pompeo's remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were the first chance for lawmakers and the public to hear directly from the former Kansas congressman about his approach to diplomacy and the role of the State Department, should he be confirmed to lead it.

Pompeo's views on global issues are well known – he was questioned extensively by senators for his confirmation to run the CIA – but Democratic senators have raised questions about his fitness to be top diplomat, given his hawkish views and past comments about minorities.

9:58 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Pompeo, the hard-charging CIA director picked to be the next secretary of state, will tell the Senate today that years of soft U.S. policy toward Russia are "now over."

Drawing a sharp contrast with predecessor Rex Tillerson, Pompeo will vow to promote democracy and human rights while ending "demoralizing" vacancies at the State Department.

According to his prepared remarks, Pompeo will chastise Russia for acting "aggressively" and emphasize the Trump administration considers Russia "a danger to our country." But he will also say that diplomatic efforts with Moscow, while challenging, "must continue." The Associated Press obtained excerpts of his remarks from a senior Trump administration official.

Trump tweeted today: "Good luck to Mike Pompeo during his Confirmation Hearing today. He will be a great Secretary of State!"

Pompeo will also stress America's "duty to lead," despite Trump's vows to put "America first."

"If we do not lead the calls for democracy, prosperity and human rights around the world, who will?" Pompeo plans to say. "No other nation is equipped with the same blend of power and principle."

Pompeo's remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be the first chance for lawmakers and the public to hear directly from the former Kansas congressman about his approach to diplomacy and the role of the State Department, should he be confirmed to lead it.

Pompeo's views on global issues are well known – he was questioned extensively by senators for his confirmation to run the CIA – but Democratic senators have raised questions about his fitness to be top diplomat, given his hawkish views and past comments about minorities.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.