WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo got into a heated exchange with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker on Wednesday during a hearing in which the two were discussing President Donald Trump’s recent controversial rhetoric about Russia, NATO allies, and more.
Corker started off a round of questioning by asking Pompeo, who was testifying on recent diplomatic developments, about why the president sows distrust with certain statements, like not wanting to back up small NATO countries such as Montenegro.
“So why does he do those things?” Corker asked. “Is there some strategy behind creating doubt in US senators’ minds on both sides of the aisle? Doubt in the American people as to what his motivations are when in fact we have tremendous faith in you?”
Corker noted that he and his colleagues have a great deal of respect for Pompeo and other cabinet officials like Defense Secretary James Mattis, but that he finds Trump’s words significantly damaging.
Pompeo responded by noting the administration’s policies on Russian aggression, such as sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats.
“Senator I disagree with most of what you just said there,” Pompeo said. “You somehow disconnect the administration’s activities from the president’s actions. They’re one in the same. Every sanction that was put in place was signed off by the president of the United States, every spy that was removed was directed by the president.”
“Here’s what the world needs to know with respect to Russia. This administration’s been tougher than previous administrations and I fully expect it will,” he added. “The president’s own words were he’s happy to figure out if we can make improvements with respect to the relationship between he and Vladimir Putin and change the course. But if not, he’ll be their — I get the words wrong — their toughest enemy.”
Corker chided Pompeo for not directly answering him, telling the chief diplomat, “You handle yourself in exactly the way you should in my opinion as it relates to comment. I notice that you are not responding to what I’m saying.”
The two then exchanged a rapid back and forth about whether or not Pompeo properly answered the questions, to which Corker said, “Hell, let’s run the transcript again if you want to talk about it.”
Pompeo squashed the tiff by telling Corker, “We’ll let the world decide.”
Corker said, “It’s not about you and it’s not about Mattis and it’s not about what we’re doing on the ground.”
Pompeo ended with a final rebuke of Corker, noting the gains the Trump administration has made as it relates to NATO and relationships with key allies.
“I talk to the same allies you do. I speak to the same foreign ministers directly,” he said. “It is the case that they are behaving differently today. There’s no doubt about that. They are now scrambling to figure out that they are fully part of NATO. Some of that is the result of the statements that you referred to, senator.”