The conversation was cringeworthy:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But didn’t the president put those gains at risk by pulling the troops out? We saw the fighting immediately.POMPEO: I'm very confident that this administration's efforts to crush ISIS will continue.STEPHANOPOULOS: And Lindsey Graham raises the other concern as the Kurds are withdrawing from that border with Turkey, that it would lead to a military occupation that displaces hundreds of thousands. He says that's not a safe zone, it's ethnic cleansing. Can you assure the Kurdish people and the president's allies in Congress that you will not be party to ethnic cleansing?POMPEO: George, we were very clear and the vice president could not have been more clear when we were speaking with [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. Go take a look at the statement that was released jointly, no fewer than three of the paragraphs were aimed squarely at ensuring that in this space, this Turkish-controlled space, between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn, in that Turkish-controlled space that there wouldn’t be attacks on minorities, that this was about getting a cease-fire, a secure area, and that this, in fact, will save lives in that very space. That was our mission set. We accomplished it. And now we need to make sure that the commitments that were made in that statement are honored.STEPHANOPOULOS: The Turks said they got everything they wanted.POMPEO: Yeah, I was there. It sure didn’t feel that way when we were negotiating. It was a hard-fought negotiation. It began before the vice president and I even arrived in Ankara. It lasted hours while we were there. We achieved the outcome that President Trump sent us to achieve.
It is not a defense to say he did not realize he was selling out the Kurds when everyone else did.
He claimed not to know aid was held up to Ukraine for Trump’s political purposes, after watching Mulvaney’s public admission:
STEPHANOPOULOS: [S]ome Republicans in the Senate, including Lisa Murkowski, Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska who said this, quote, “You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative. Period.” Is Senator Murkowski correct?POMPEO: George, I never saw that in the decision-making process that I was a part of, the decision surrounding whether there should be Department of Defense assistance, as well as some State Department assistance, provided to push back against Russia. The conversation was always around, what were the strategic implications? Would that money get to the right place, or would there be corruption in Ukraine, and the money wouldn’t flow to the mission that it was intended for? How do we protect that? Is it appropriate for us to provide defensive weapons systems? George, you will remember — I don’t know why Barack Obama held up that funding. Maybe he had a theory too. I don’t know. He never provided it. This administration has done it not once, not twice, but now three times.STEPHANOPOULOS: But President Trump...POMPEO: The people in Ukraine are safer and more secure as a result of that. And the Russians certainly don't appreciate it.STEPHANOPOULOS: But President Trump ordered Mick Mulvaney to — to suspend the aid. And you saw Mr. Mulvaney right there say that one of the reasons was indeed this idea that the Ukrainians had to pursue these political investigations.POMPEO: I — I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended. I can speak clearly to what America’s strategic objectives were in providing this defensive weapons — weaponry to the people of Ukraine.STEPHANOPOULOS: So, do you agree, then, with Senator Murkowski that it would have been inappropriate to withhold the military aid unless this political investigation was pursued?POMPEO: George, it — I’m — I’m telling you what I was involved with. I’m telling you what I saw transpiring and how President Trump was working to make the evaluation about whether it was appropriate to provide this assistance.STEPHANOPOULOS: But I — that’s what I’m — what I’m asking is, would it be appropriate to condition that aid?POMPEO: Yes, George, I’m — I’m not going to get into hypotheticals and secondary things based on someone — what someone else has said. George, you would have never done it when you were the spokesman. I’m not going to do it here today.STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, except it’s not a hypothetical.
Ouch. Again, it strains credulity that he still does not know what Mulvaney has acknowledged doing and what Giuliani bragged openly about. What was the reason for the delay — or was he clueless about that as well?
One does wonder what Pompeo thinks he is accomplishing — both in serving a president who betrays allies while empowering Russia and in sacrificing his own credibility for defending policies he would have excoriated under President Barack Obama. This is the Beltway Syndrome — clinging to power for the sake of power and convincing oneself things would be worse if you were not acting as an apologist for a corrupt and incompetent administration.
Pompeo might have been awful, but Mulvaney on Sunday might have sealed his fate. (His job was reportedly already at some risk before the impeachment inquiry.) Appearing on “Fox News Sunday” (where Trump might have actually seen him), Mulvaney had this ludicrous exchange with Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: Why — here’s my first question. Why did you say that in that briefing that President Trump had ordered a . . . quid pro quo, that investigating the Democrats, that aid to Ukraine depended on investigating the Democrats? Why did you say that?MULVANEY: Again, that's not what I said. That's what people said I said.Here's what I said, I'll say it again and hopefully people will listen this time.There were two reasons that we held up the aid. We talked about this at some length. The first one was the rampant corruption in Ukraine. Ukraine — by the way, Chris, it’s so bad in Ukraine that in 2014, Congress passed a law making it — making us — requiring us to make sure that corruption was moving in the right direction. So, corruption is a big deal, everyone knows it.The president was also concerned about whether or not other nations, specifically European nations, were helping with foreign aid to the Ukraine as well. We talked about that for quite a while now.. . .WALLACE: Let’s play what you said.MULVANEY: Sure.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)MULVANEY: Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that's it, and that's what we held up the money.REPORTER: What you just described is a quid pro quo. It is, funding will not flow unless the investigation into the — into the Democrats’ server happened as well.MULVANEY: We do — we do that all the time with foreign policy.(END VIDEO CLIP)WALLACE: You were asked specifically by Jonathan Karl, was investigating Democrats one of the conditions for holding up the aid?MULVANEY: Yes.WALLACE: Was that part of the quid pro quo? And you said, it happens all the time.MULVANEY: Yes. But go back and watch what I said before that. I don't know if you guys can cue it or not. There was a long answer about corruption and a long answer about foreign aid.(CROSSTALK)WALLACE: No, you totally said that.MULVANEY: Just like I told you then, and then I said the exact same thing I just said now, which is that he mentioned in passing yes, but the reason that we held back the aid with the two reasons I mentioned. And I can prove it to you. The aid flowed.Once we were able to satisfy ourselves that corruption was actually — they were doing better with it, we got that information from our folks from the conversation with Minister Zelensky and once we were able to establish we had the Office of Management and Budget do research on other countries’ aid to Ukraine, it turns out they don’t get any lethal aid, but they do give a considerable sum of money and nonlethal aid.Once those two things were cleared, the money flowed. There was never any connection between the flow of money and the server.WALLACE: But, Mick, you know, I hate to go through this, but you said what you said.MULVANEY: Yes.WALLACE: And the fact is, after that exchange with Jonathan Karl, you were asked another time why the aid was held up. What was the condition for the aid? And you didn’t mention two conditions, you mentioned three conditions.
It went on for some time like that. It is hard to imagine even his audience of one (Trump) thought that was effective. If anything, Mulvaney underscored how difficult it is to sustain an argument that there was no quid pro quo. (After all, Trump’s “I would like you to do us a favor though” is right there, in the rough transcript of the July 25 call.)
Any Republican who is not already in the tank for Trump can’t be comforted by these performances. The only defense for Trump is to deny reality, even one’s own words. Republican lawmakers on the ballot in 2020 who feel compelled to make these or similarly weak arguments will find themselves starring in Democratic ads as exemplars of spineless, dishonest careerists. At some point, Republicans should ask why they continue to stick by a president whose defense makes them look clueless and dishonest or both. Perhaps a stunning across-the-board electoral defeat will bring Republicans to their senses.