News of Trump’s request to Zelensky was first reported Sept. 20 by the Wall Street Journal. Details were sparse at the time. On Sept. 22, Pompeo appeared on several Sunday shows as the face of the administration. Asked about Trump’s interactions with Zelensky and about a whistleblower complaint from a member of the intelligence community, Pompeo claimed ignorance.
Nearly two weeks later, Pompeo confirmed news reports that he was on the July 25 call between the two presidents.
Pompeo gave careful answers in the Sept. 22 interviews. But they were disingenuous, laden with deflections and omissions that gave a false impression of what he knew. Let’s dig into the timeline of events.
July 25: Trump in a phone call asks the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, a potential Democratic opponent in the 2020 election, and Hunter Biden, according to a readout of the conversation released by the White House. Here’s Trump making the request:
“The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it... It sounds horrible to me.” (In making this request, Trump falsely claimed that Biden as vice president stopped Ukrainian prosecutors from pursuing a case involving his son.)
Aug. 12: An intelligence community whistleblower files a complaint based on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden and related issues. It reads in part: “According to the White House officials who had direct knowledge of the call, the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to, inter alia: initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.”
Sept. 20: The Wall Street Journal reports that “President Trump in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son.” The Washington Post and other news outlets confirm that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden.
Sept. 22: Pompeo appears on ABC News, CBS News and Fox News. The second half of his interview on “Fox News Sunday” covers Ukraine.
John Roberts, Fox News: “We still don’t know the exact substance of the complaint, but it does seem to revolve around a July 25th conversation the president had with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. And we have heard from reporting in the Wall Street Journal that the president asked Zelensky about eight times to have the Ukraine work with his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s involvement in Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas company. To your mind, is that an appropriate conversation for Rudy Giuliani to be having with Ukrainian officials?”Pompeo: “Well, John, you’re asking me to comment on an IG report I haven’t seen and some reporting — I have no idea if that has any foundation whatsoever.”
That’s deceptive. Pompeo mentions reports of the July 25 phone call and adds, “I have no idea if that has any foundation whatsoever.” No idea?
Roberts presses a few more times, but Pompeo avoids mentioning the July 25 phone call or his direct knowledge of what Trump and Zelensky discussed. Here’s another exchange:
Roberts: “Again, I assume that you’ve seen the transcript. Is it as described in the Wall Street Journal?”Pompeo: “You know, I haven’t seen the Wall Street Journal piece, John. There’s a lot going on in the world.”
Usually a secretary of state is up-to-date on major topics in the news and prepares for obvious questions before speaking on national television for the administration. But Pompeo didn’t need to read news reports or a transcript of the July 25 phone call to remember what was discussed. He was on the phone call.
Here’s yet another attempt by Roberts:
Roberts: “If there was a quid pro quo, would that be a problem?”Pompeo: “John, you’re asking me to provide legal analysis on a hypothetical on a report I haven’t seen. Come on.”
It’s a bit much to see Pompeo describe this question as a hypothetical. He didn’t need any report to tell him what was discussed because he had direct knowledge of Trump’s request to Zelensky.
Now let’s look at Pompeo’s interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News on “This Week,” also on Sept. 22:
Raddatz: “And I want to turn to this whistleblower complaint, Mr. Secretary, the complaint involving the president and a phone call with a foreign leader to the director of national intelligence inspector general — that’s where the complaint was launched by the whistleblower. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Trump pressed the president of Ukraine eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani to investigate Joe Biden’s son. What do you know about those conversations?”Pompeo: “So, you just gave me a report about a I.C. whistleblower complaint, none of which I’ve seen.”
Notice how Raddatz frames her question broadly, asking Pompeo what he knew about Trump’s “conversations” with Zelensky. Pompeo frames his response in terms of the whistleblower complaint and again dances around the July 25 phone call.
That’s a conversation Pompeo had direct knowledge of, so his response to Raddatz was deeply disingenuous. Here’s another exchange:
Raddatz: “You say you know nothing about this, but let me — let me — let me ask you this question. The Ukrainian presidential readout of the conversation said they discussed, quote, ‘investigation of corruption cases which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.’ The president tweeted Saturday, ‘It was a perfectly fine and respectful conversation.’ Do you think it’s, quote, ‘perfectly fine’ to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent?”Pompeo: “I think I saw a statement from the Ukrainian foreign minister yesterday, said there was no pressure applied in the course of the conversation.”
Once again, Pompeo is asked squarely about the July 25 conversation, and once again, he bobs and weaves. Pompeo referred selectively to comments from the Ukrainian foreign minister when he could have volunteered direct knowledge of the phone call and Trump’s request to Zelensky. Combined with his other answers, the effect is misleading.
Sept. 24: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announces a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Sept. 25: The White House releases the readout of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky.
Sept. 26: The whistleblower complaint is made public.
Oct. 2: During a visit to Italy, Pompeo confirms the reports that he was on the July 25 phone call. “As for, was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call,” Pompeo says in Rome. “The phone call was in the context of — now, I guess I’ve been the secretary of state for coming on a year and a half — I know precisely what the American policy is with respect to Ukraine. It’s been remarkably consistent, and we will continue to try to drive those set of outcomes.”
We asked whether Pompeo had a role preparing or briefing Trump for the July 25 phone call with Zelensky, and if so, whether the request to investigate the Bidens came up in the preparations. The State Department did not respond to our questions.
Oct. 3: Pompeo gets Four Pinocchios for repeatedly hiding the truth from viewers on Sept. 22.
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