The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Mike Pompeo’s scandals big and small erode his dwindling credibility

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with President Trump, foreground, attends the coronavirus task force press briefing at the White House on April 8. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It is a familiar pattern in the Trump administration. A flunky of President Trump gets a job for which he is not remotely qualified. He hires other subpar personnel. He spends his time tending to Trump’s ego at the expense of his own integrity, the department he leads and America’s international reputation. Eventually, scandals big and small erode his value to the president.

So it is with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the right-wing congressman who feasted on the Benghazi affair; got picked to lead the CIA, where he spent an inordinate amount of time apple-polishing at the White House; and was elevated to secretary of state. Once there, he mouthed Trump’s dangerous naivete about North Korea (and then tried conning Congress and the American people into believing diplomatic progress was made), misled Congress about evidence tying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, failed to stand up for the former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and stonewalled Congress on production of documents to protect Trump. And now, two incidents threaten to further damage his credibility and perhaps make him more of a nuisance than a help during Trump’s disastrous reelection year.

On the policy front, Pompeo continues his fast retreat from his falsehood that there is “enormous evidence” the coronavirus came from a lab in Wuhan, China. CNN now reports he has effectively abandoned this baseless rumor. “Pompeo said in an interview with Breitbart that aired Saturday that ‘we know it began in Wuhan, but we don’t know from where or from whom, and those are important things.’" CNN reports. “We have repeatedly asked to have teams go in to assist them in identifying where the virus originated,” the secretary said. But what about that “enormous evidence”? Well: “In his interview with Breitbart, Pompeo emphasized that knowing where the outbreak began is ‘key’ for scientists working on developing a vaccine, and blamed China for ‘attempting … to undermine the central understandings of transparency that every country has a responsibility to deliver.’”

Two points Pompeo neglects to mention: First, there is zero evidence the virus arose in a Wuhan lab; Pompeo’s conspiratorial musings have not added to the body of evidence we have had for months. In fact, they have made him and the United States a laughingstock internationally.

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Second, of course China lied. That is why failing to have our own people on the ground to observe the rise of epidemics was so irresponsible. Anyone counting on China to be anything but secretive and deceitful about a domestic calamity was foolish. Pompeo’s blatantly public politicization of foreign policy and the pandemic renders him the least impressive and effective secretary of state in memory.

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On the ethics front, Pompeo is now confronted with a scandal stemming from his alleged misuse of federal employees. The allegation amounts to theft, actually, since he is accused of taking public employees away from work for the American people for his and his wife’s personal use. To make matters worse, Pompeo is said to have recommended the firing of the inspector general who uncovered the wrongdoing, a potential obstruction of an investigation straight from the Trump playbook.

The Post reports:

The State Department inspector general fired by President Trump was looking into allegations that a staffer for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was performing domestic errands and chores such as handling dry cleaning, walking the family dog and making restaurant reservations, said a congressional official familiar with the matter.

The pettiness of Pompeo’s alleged arrogant assumption of privilege, which may also include an excessive number of trips back to Kansas last year at a time when he was considering a Senate campaign, is striking. (Couldn’t the man who founded and sold an aerospace company have hired a college kid to run errands for him?) And if we are talking about the Trump administration, there are also questions about deployment of a family member, Pompeo’s wife in this case, in a “quasi-official role.” The New York Times reports that some State Department officials have been concerned about “an unusually active role in running meetings and accompanying her husband on official business.”

In other words, if the reports are true, Pompeo is behaving like yet another run-of-the-mill political hack in Trump’s employ — tone-deaf to ethical impropriety, fixated on Trump’s political interests and lacking credibility in his official capacity. He’ll join the long list of Trump Cabinet officials to earn the distinction of “worst ever” in their jobs.

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