Mike Pompeo, who until recently has served as director of the CIA, fielded nearly five hours of questions from lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday, as he looks to become secretary of state.
President Trump nominated Pompeo to the role after dramatically firing former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last month. Pompeo fielded a range of question topics from senators, from Iran, to Syria, to special counsel Robert Mueller.
- Syria: Pompeo indicated he doesn't think Mr. Trump needs further congressional authorization to strike Syria, a question he was asked in many ways throughout the hearing. But Pompeo said he would support a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) from Congress.
- Mueller: Pompeo confirmed he has been interviewed by Mueller, as the special counsel probes Russian election meddling and any ties to the Trump campaign. But he would not comment in any substantive manner on conversations he had with Mueller, or on conversations he may have had with the president about Mueller. He called questions about the probe a "minefield." Pompeo said he likely wouldn't step down from the administration if Mr. Trump fired Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
- Iran: Pompeo would not definitively say whether he will advocate to stay in, or pull out of, the Iran deal. The next deadline for certifying compliance with the deal to Congress is next month.
Follow along for live updates of the hearing:
Pompeo again says he likely wouldn't step aside if Trump fired Mueller or Rosenstein
Pressed as to whether he would step aside as CIA director or secretary of state nominee if Mr. Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Pompeo said he didn't think he would.
"I think the answer's no," Pompeo said.
Asked what he would do, Pompeo called the situation described "hypothetical."
Pompeo on carrying out the budget: "I know the rules"
Pompeo, pressed by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. on whether he will carry out the priorities Congress lays out in the budget, said he has a constitutional duty to do so.
"I know the rules," Pompeo said.
Menendez said he needs "some idea" of what Pompeo will advocate on Iran deal
Pompeo has continued to decline to answer how he will advocate on the Iran deal, with the deadline just one month away.
Pompeo said it's "hard to hypothesize" what the conditions will be in May, just weeks away.
"It's a hypothetical situation" with a "number of facts" still unavailable, Pompeo said.
Pompeo reiterates he would like a new AUMF
Pompeo repeated something he had said earlier in testimony -- that he believe it would be beneficial to have a new Authorization of the Use of Military Force, or AUMF.
The current AUMF authorizing the president to take military action dates back to the post-Sept. 11, 2001 days. Congress has made some attempts to craft and approve a new AUMF, but those so far have failed.
Many of the questions directed at Pompeo addressed his views on the authority of the president to intervene militarily, without congressional approval, and whether there is a need for a new AUMF, with senators' minds clearly focused on the possibility of military intervention in Syria and North Korea.
Pompeo says he wants to continue the pressure campaign on North Korea
Pompeo, asked if he aligns more closely with national security adviser John Bolton or Defense Secretary James Mattis on North Korea, said he aligns most closely with the president. Pompeo said he wants to continue the pressure campaign on North Korea.
Pompeo says he stands by view against same-sex marriage
Pompeo, pressed by Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said he holds the same belief now that he did in Congress, when he opposed same-sex marriage.
But Pompeo said there are married gay couples in the CIA, and he treated them no differently.
"I treated them with the exact same sight of rights," he said.
Asked if he believes gay sex is a perversion, Pompeo said he would give the same answer that he had earlier, declining to answer the question head-on.
Pompeo doesn't think Trump needs Congress' approval for Syria response
Pompeo said he believes it's best when any military action abroad has the support and authorization of both Capitol Hill and the White House.
But eventually he admitted he doesn't believe the president needs authorization from Congress for any action in Syria, despite believing that a new Authorization of the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would be helpful.
Pompeo doesn't rule out preemptive strikes in North Korea
Pompeo said he agrees with Defense Secretary James Mattis that North Korea is the greatest national security threat facing the United States.
The nominee said the goal of the upcoming meeting between North Korea and the U.S. is for North Korea to "step away" from its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Pressed further, Pompeo eventually agreed that the sustained U.S. goal is the complete and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.
Pompeo later said he would not rule out military intervention, including preemptive strikes, in North Korea. Asked about the possibility of a preemptive strike, said, "there may come that day."
But Pompeo emphasized that he believes diplomatic solutions are achievable.
Pompeo says he's seen no evidence Iran is not in compliance with Iran deal
Pompeo, when pressed, said he has seen no evidence that Iran is not in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran deal). That comes after Pompeo declined to directly say whether he supports pulling out of the Iran deal.
Pompeo said he likely wouldn't resign if Trump fired Mueller
Pompeo, pressed if he would resign if Mr. Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller, said he didn't think he would.
Pompeo said he thinks commitment to the country is even more crucial at times of political confusion.
But Pompeo, in the hearing, also acknowledged he has been interviewed by Mueller. Pompeo did not elaborate much on that interview or his cooperation.
"I spoke with Special Counsel Mueller, who interviewed me," Pompeo said. "Requested an interview. I cooperated. Your colleagues on the senate intelligence committee have asked for information from me and the central intelligence committee, as the House Select Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I think leaders would say I have been cooperative..."
Johnson grills Pompeo on China
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, asked Pompeo what he thinks it is China wants.
Johnson said that, rather than look at the U.S.-China relationship as a win-lose situation, it might be better to find ways both China and the U.S. could work.
Pompeo said he doesn't see everything in foreign relations as a zero-sum game.
Pompeo says he's "proud" of his work at CIA to encourage diversity
Pompeo, in response to a series of questions from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen about his record at the CIA, said he is "proud" of the record he has to foster diversity.
Pompeo declines to answer whether Russia probe is a "witch hunt"
Pompeo declined to answer a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen as to whether he believes the FBI's Russia investigation is a " witch hunt," the phrase Mr. Trump has often used to describe the investigation into Russian election meddling and any ties to Trump associates.
Pompeo said he will not be commenting on any of the three Russia probes -- including the House and Senate Intelligence Committee probes.
Pompeo says he does not advocate regime change in North Korea
Pompeo said an assertion from Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., that he wants regime change in North Korea is inaccurate. Pompeo said he has never advocated for regime change.
Pompeo says Paris agreement put "undue burden" on U.S.
Pompeo said he supports the president's position on the Paris climate deal entirely, saying the agreement has placed an "undue burden" on the U.S.
Pompeo declines to give his position on the Iran deal
Pompeo declined to directly say whether he currently supports staying in, or pulling out, of the Iran deal, calling it a hypothetical question in an exchange with Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.
The deadline for a decision in rectifying Iran's compliance to Congress is one month away, and Mr. Trump said earlier this year when he certified Iran's compliance with the deal that it would be the last time.
Pompeo, after much prompting, clarified that it is his understanding Mr. Trump intends to pull out of the deal if he isn't satisfied with any fixes in the next month, and then would work towards some sort of new deal.
Pompeo declines to talk about conversation with the president
Menendez asked Pompeo about a Washington Post story from last year claiming Mr. Trump wanted his top officials to intervene, during a conversation about Russia and the FBI's investigation.
Pompeo said he would not discuss conversations with the president. He then said he couldn't recall exactly what was discussed at that meeting.
"Senator, I don't recall. I don't recall what he asked me that day, precisely," Pompeo said.
"He has never asked me to do anything remotely that I consider improper," Pompeo added.
Pressed further by Menendez as to whether Mr. Trump ever broached the topic of the special counsel probe and asked Pompeo any questions about it, Pompeo declined to answer.
"Senator, again I'm not going to talk about private conversations I've had with the president," Pompeo said.
Pompeo says he loves dogs and meatballs
Pompeo attempted to add some flavor about who he is as a person.
Pompeo said he:
- Loves meatballs, which he makes
- Can beat his son in cornhole, on any day
- Has a soft spot for golden retrievers
- Was employee of the month at Baskin Robbins, twice, as a teenager
Pompeo says he'll work to fill vacancies, foster diversity
As the Department of State under Mr. Trump and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left numerous vacancies, Pompeo said he would work diligently to fill those.
Pompeo also said he will strive for increased diversity in the State Department, and listen to employees.
Pompeo delivers his opening remarks
Pompeo thanked his family, employees of the CIA and the president for their confidence and support.
"Senators, if confirmed, I would raise my hand and swear and oath to defend our Constitution for the seventh time in my life," Pompeo said. "The first time as as an 18-year-old West Point cadet. With this oath, I would commit to defend the exceptionalism enshrined in our Constitution, which provides for our obligation to engage in diplomacy and model the very best of American to the world," Pompeo said.
Pompeo also said he has no problem with confrontation, and likes to meet people face to face -- comments that followed concerns from both Menendez and Corker as to whether he would be willing to be honest with the president.
Sen. Bob Menendez fears effects of Trump's "erratic" approach
Sen. Bob Menendez expressed his concern over the effects of Mr. Trump's "erratic" decision-making.
"This committee considers your nomination after a nearly a year and a half of reckoning with President Trump's erratic approach to foreign policy, which has left our allies confused and our adversaries emboldened," Menendez said in his prepared remarks.
"An approach driven by impulse, not strategy. President Trump's 'America First' polices have left America isolated and alone in the midst of unprecedented challenges from an aggressive Russia who seeks to undermine the international order we helped create after World War Two that has brought peace and stability to the world for nearly three quarters of a century... a destabilized Middle East... the ongoing threat of terrorism... an emboldened China asserting itself in the South China Sea militarily and economically in the Western Hemisphere... Assad - a butcher who has used chemical weapons against innocent civilians... Maduro tightening his grip on his regime and starving Venezuelans in one of the most oil rich countries in the world."
Sen. Bob Corker says he hopes Pompeo can have a "candid" relationship with Trump
Sen. Bob Corker, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the world would be in a better place if the U.S. had intervened in Syria in 2013.
Corker said the president may at times act "impulsively," but has also been provided good counsel on crucial issues abroad. Corker said any secretary of state
"However, many strong voices have been terminated or resigned," Corker said, wondering if Pompeo's relationship with the president is rooted in a "candid, healthy" dynamic or a "deferential willingness" to go along to get along.
Sen. Richard Burr urges to put "politics aside" at hearing
Burr calls Pompeo a "good man" saying he represents "everything we pray in a nominee that they would have."
"We have an opportunity in Mike Pompeo to select and to confirm an individual I think speaks for generations to come," he added.
Bob Dole jokes as he introduces Pompeo
"I can't see you all, but you all good look," jokes former Sen. Bob Dole to the committee while introducing Pompeo. He said Pompeo is "ready to go" and will be the nation's top diplomat, urging a quick confirmation process.
Pompeo arrives to hearing as protests break out
Pompeo arrives to the hearing chamber and takes his seat as Code Pink protesters stand and chant, "No Pompeo, no more war!"
Pompeo vows to fill vacancies at State
Pompeo is aiming to work with the White House and Senate to fill senior vacancies currently crippling the beleaguered State Department, saying it's "critical to strengthening the finest diplomatic corps in the world."
"America and the world need us to be that," he adds in prepared remarks, committing to revive the Department.
Pompeo thanks Tillerson, predecessors in opening remarks
In opening remarks released before his hearing, Mike Pompeo will thank his predecessors at State, including former Secretary Rex Tillerson who was dramatically fired by Mr. Trump in March.
"I'd also like to recognize former Secretary Tillerson for his dedicated service and commitment to a smooth transition, as well as Deputy Secretary John Sullivan for serving in the gap," Pompeo says in his remarks.
Pompeo also says he will do his best to be in regular contact with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying "your counsel and support will, if I'm confirmed, be critical to my leadership of the Department of State."