What it says, of course, is subject to debate.
During his time in office, Pompeo largely stuck to the Faustian bargain he made when he entered this administration. He demonstrated unswerving public loyalty toward Trump and the few foreign policy issues he cared about. In return, Pompeo has been the most prominent voice in Trump’s foreign policy. This worked for him in no small part because he had the good fortune to replace the worst secretary of state in history at Foggy Bottom. Just by being more closely tied to the president, Pompeo made the State Department more relevant.
The Ukraine scandal and its ensuing fallout, however, have highlighted the contradictions that the secretary of state had managed to suppress. He is starting to stink as much as the Parmesan cheese that an Italian reporter gave Pompeo on Tuesday.
For one thing, after stonewalling questions about his involvement in Trump’s Ukraine call, Pompeo confirmed on Wednesday that he had been listening to the conversation. He also resisted requests from the House of Representatives for State Department employees to testify about their knowledge of the Trump White House’s efforts to lean on Ukraine for partisan political purposes. He did this both through an officious letter to three House chairs as well as at a news conference overseas:
In making these moves, Pompeo has undercut his support among two vital constituencies: Congress and his own diplomatic corps.
It increasingly appears that Pompeo has lost the building. Ironically, Pompeo’s righteous indignation in defense of his Foreign Service officers appears to be a tipping point. It highlights Pompeo’s massive hypocrisy as the secretary. He clearly wants to protect diplomats from congressional testimony that could negatively affect Trump. He had less concern about FSOs when he acceded to the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from Ukraine after Rudolph W. Giuliani pushed a right-wing conspiracy theory (with the help of an imprisoned Paul Manafort) to force her out. Pompeo has done absolutely nothing to force out Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley despite an Inspector General report about Moley’s abusive behavior toward FSOs. The timing of further investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails also dents Pompeo’s claim of acting in good faith.
The diplomatic corps is starting to rebel. A petition in support of Yovanovitch was started among retired diplomats. Politico’s Nahal Toosi also reports a fair amount of resentment brewing at Foggy Bottom:
A current State Department staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect his job, described the Pompeo letter as “the height of irony.” …Pompeo’s letter also drew derisive comments from people who remember his time as a congressman, when he loudly pressured the Clinton-led State Department to release information about the 2012 attack that killed four Americans, including an ambassador, in Benghazi, Libya....Since the memo detailing Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart was released, dozens of foreign service officers have joined a private Facebook group for those considering quitting their jobs, a member of the group told POLITICO.
Low-level grumbling is one thing, but Pompeo also appears to be unable to stop some of the subpoenaed individuals from testifying. The Daily Beast’s Erin Banco reports that Pompeo forced Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker to resign in an effort to cauterize the Ukraine wound that Giuliani keeps opening on cable news. The problem, as Banco notes, is that, “Pompeo’s plan appears to have backfired. Despite the secretary’s efforts to block several of his current and former officials from speaking to Congress, Volker is set to go to Capitol Hill on Thursday with the backing of a cadre of current and former diplomats.” Furthermore, “several U.S. officials told The Daily Beast the former Ukraine negotiator said openly that he was not ready to leave his position.” Volker has allies in the media; Pompeo, not so much.
In addition to Volker, Yovanovitch will testify next week. The House also learned more about the precise conspiracy theories Giuliani was pushing on the State Department to get Yovanovitch recalled. Neither this tolerance of conspiracy theories nor Pompeo’s involvement in the Ukraine affair will endear him to congressional Democrats.
Mike Pompeo is still the secretary of state, and Trump supports him. That counts for a lot. But other constituencies matter for the secretary of state to do his job, and Pompeo is alienating several of those. None of this will force him out of office, but it will make him a weaker and less effective secretary of state. And he was never James Baker in the first place.