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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Senate Questions Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 25, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:02]

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: And to get the displaced persons the opportunity to return to Syria.

And then I think the president has talked about one more -- one more item. So, I -- as the president shared it, I feel like I can as well.

I think he also talked about America's continued commitment to ensure that Israel was secure from threats in Syria as well, and that topic was discussed by them as well. I think the president has previously shared that.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Do you know if there was any sort of downgrading of our U.S. presence in Israel -- I mean, in Syria that was discussed?

POMPEO: Senator, there's been no change in U.S. policy with respect to our activities in Syria.

(CROSSTALK)

SHAHEEN: I understand. But that's not exactly the question I'm asking.

POMPEO: Senator, it's what matters. It's what matters.

What matters is what President Trump has directed us to do following his meeting with Vladimir Putin. It's what he has told his senior leadership team to do and how he wants us to deploy his foreign policy strategy.

SHAHEEN: And do you know if the frozen stabilization funds for Syria, the $200 million, was that ever discussed?

POMPEO: Senator, there's been -- we are still working to review that policy. That's a State Department policy. We are still working to review it. That policy was the same the day before as it was the day after the president's meeting with Vladimir Putin.

SHAHEEN: And do you know if Iran was referenced in the context of Syria in their discussions?

POMPEO: Senator, again, it's not -- it's not for me to disclose the contents of those conversations. I can tell you that each time I have spoken with President Trump, both before Helsinki summit and after, Iran has been a central point that we have focused on with respect to U.S. policy in Syria. I'm confident it will remain so.

SHAHEEN: So, in an interview, General Votel was asked about whether a deal had been made on Syria between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.

And he said, as you indicated, that he had received no instructions to change what he's doing. And he went further on to say -- and I quote -- "I would want to make sure that this isn't something that we stepped into lightly. I'm not recommending that, and that would be a pretty big step at this point."

In response to his comments, the Russian Ministry of Defense put out a statement and also posted on social media -- and, again, I'm quoting the Russian media -- they say Ministry, I mean -- "With his statements, General Votel not only discredited the official position of his supreme commander in chief, but also exacerbated the illegality under international law and U.S. law of the military presence of American servicemen in Syria."

Can you tell me what our response has been to the Russian Ministry of Defense with respect to this statement?

POMPEO: Senator, my guess, the response would be most appropriately from the Department of Defense and not from the Department of State.

But I will humbly suggest to you that you ought to have more confidence in statements from General Votel than the Russian Ministry of Defense.

SHAHEEN: I do have more confidence in General Votel's statement. That's why I'm raising this question, because it seems to me that our response to the Russian Ministry of Defense ought to be very strong to say they have nothing to say about what our generals are doing in Syria. That's not their business. That's our business.

And I would hope that that's a point that we make very strongly.

I had the opportunity to visit Syria a little over two weeks ago, and I was very impressed with the work that our military has been doing in northern -- Northeast Syria along the Turkish border. I was very impressed with the work of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

And what I heard over and over again, both from the men and women who were serving and from the civilians, Syrian civilians on the ground, was, please don't leave us here to the fate of either Assad or the Russians or other forces that may come into that part of Syria.

And, please, just a little bit in help for reconstruction efforts would go a very long way. That part of Syria has stabilized. They are into reconstruction. They are sending back people who have been displaced to their homes.

And it would be, I believe, a real terrible reversal of policy for us to leave those folks after what we have done, and to turn them over to the Russians or to Assad's forces.

POMPEO: Senator, if I might, just -- just so the facts are clear, the previous administration is the one that enabled Russia to have the capacity that they have in Syria today.

(CROSSTALK)

SHAHEEN: I'm not defending the previous administration, Mr. Secretary. I want this administration to continue what is working.

[16:05:02]

POMPEO: Its policy, this administration's policy.

You're advocating for the continuation of this administration's policy. I think that's important for everyone to understand.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Senator Flake.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Secretary, for your testimony.

I want to command the State Department, you in particular, for quick statements with regard to the nature of the conversation as it was between President Putin and President Trump regarding certain individuals like Mr. McFaul -- McFaul and others traveling to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians.

The State Department came out and said that was inappropriate, despite the president's statement that it was an incredible offer. And it took the White House a full two days or three days to contradict that statement that President Putin had made, but the State Department quickly said that that was inappropriate. And so thank you for doing that.

POMPEO: Thanks.

But, Senator Flake, you give me a little bit too much credit. I'm doing my level best every day to implement the president's policies.

That statement was from the United States president's State Department.

FLAKE: OK. But the United States president said that it was an incredible offer.

And so that's why I'm pointing out the difference and commending you. Please take it.

With regard to what else was said during that meeting, I know you have given some indication of what was discussed. Let me just give a sense of how Russia is characterizing that meeting. And this is the problem with a private meeting like this. Many of us voiced strong concerns about having a private meeting like this, with no readout officially for what happened. And here's what happens when a private meeting like that is held.

Vladimir Putin's meeting with Donald Trump was -- quote -- "better than super," Russia's top diplomat has said. "The leaders summit in Helsinki was fabulous." I think that was Lavrov who also said that.

The remarks reported by Russia's news agency summed up the mood that Mr. Trump sided with the Kremlin over his own intelligence agencies. So they're reporting that as well.

Here's how one paper in Russia characterized it. "Trump has failed to dominate Putin." Another tabloid said, "A quiet, modest Trump has paled in comparison with Vladimir Putin. It's clear that Putin has outmaneuvered the U.S. president."

That's the Russian media characterizing a meeting. And we have no readout to dispute any of it. All we have are the statements made by the president that they made an incredible offer, for example, to have former U.S. diplomats shipped off to Russia to be interrogated.

I'm glad to hear that, one, a little more time will be had before a new meeting takes place between the two principals. By the way, I think that it's good that our president and the Russian president speak and meet together. That's a good thing.

I don't think it's a good thing to eat in private with only an interpreter present with no readout, so that whatever is characterized is only characterized by the Russian side.

So do you have any response or thoughts on that?

POMPEO: So, I have a personal experience. I had a private conversation with North Koreans. We didn't issue a readout on the conversations, quite intentionally. And the North Korean press chose to characterize it.

We thought it was in America's best interest not to respond tit for tat about the nature of that conversation. We knew the truth. We knew what had taken place there. And it's the North Korean press. And so I assume that most reasonable people will discount it fairly significantly, in the same way that one might the Russian press.

These are important decisions about how much to disclose about private conversations that were had, because everyone knows that you may have an expectation that you will have another private conversation one day, and the absence of their belief that that private conversation has the capacity to remain that space reduces the freedom to have those conversations.

I know you have had this in your life too, Senator. I know you have had private conversations, and have valued them. It was just you and someone else in that room. And it was important. And you didn't give anyone a readout from it, because you wanted to have the chance to do that again, because you thought you could make real progress with that person.

FLAKE: Let's talk about North Korea. You brought it up.

You mentioned that you traveled to North Korea to continue on, as you put it, I guess to follow up on commitments made in Singapore. Let's talk about those commitments for a minute. You mentioned that they have committed to denuclearization.

[16:10:01]

They may have a different readout than we do on what that entails.

But -- but, so far, they seem to be walking back any commitment, real commitment that was made there. What commitment, firm commitment, other than discussion of returning remains -- I'm not discounting that -- but in terms of denuclearization, what real commitments were made?

POMPEO: I'm not going to get into the private commitments that have been shared.

I don't think it's fair to characterize them walking back from commitments. Remember where we were, right? So it all depends what you draw as the projected line to say, are we in a better place or a worse place than we would have been absent the Singapore summit?

One can draw counterfactual -- we will never know where we might have been, but I will concede there is an awful long way to go. I'm not trying to oversell the accomplishments that we have had towards the path of denuclearization to date. There remains a great deal of work to do.

It will be highly contested. That is, the modalities, the means, the timing of this will be things that I'm confident we will be discussing for a period of time. There have been public reports. And I know the United States is tracking the disassembly of a missile engine test site, something that Chairman Kim committed orally, wasn't in the written agreement itself, but Chairman Kim committed in his conversation with President Trump to do.

They're beginning to dismantle that. It has to do with their missile program. It's a good thing, steps forward.

FLAKE: OK. Thank you.

Quickly, before the time is out, something completely different. The country of Rwanda right now -- and you may be familiar with this because of this week's focus on religious freedom.

POMPEO: Yes, I am.

FLAKE: Has indicated a move toward severe restrictions on religious freedom, particularly from outside groups.

What are the plans of the State Department to let them know that that is not -- that is not in their own interest in nor ours?

POMPEO: Senator, I share your concerns. I will need to get back to in terms of what actions we think we can -- I know we will call it out. I know we will label it for what it is. We do need to see what we -- and it is tragic. And, anyway, I share your concerns. It's a huge challenge for us.

FLAKE: Thank you.

CORKER: Thank you.

Senator Kaine.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Mr. Secretary, just a couple of thoughts.

I was very discouraged at the Helsinki summit when the president basically was offered a choice in some of the questions that he believed U.S. intel or did he believe Vladimir Putin's protestations that he had engaged in hacking of the election, and he basically said, my own people have made a great case to me. Vladimir Putin has made a great case to me. I don't see why Russia would have done this.

He came back and corrected it the next day in the United States. But at the end, he said, I believe my intel community, but there's a lot of people out there. It could have been someone else. And then this dragged on for a couple of days.

You know where I live. You know I have a lot of constituents who used to be you're employees at the CIA. People come up to me all the time in Virginia and say, I'm with the I.C. And they are very demoralized by this. They're very demoralized that, when standing next to Vladimir Putin, the president's words were to suggest that he trusted Vladimir Putin over them.

There was the suggestion, when President Trump said it was an incredible offer about Ambassador McFaul, that he was also potentially willing to throw not just intel folks under the bus, but State Department diplomats under the bus. They live in Virginia too. They feel the demoralization of that.

Your comments today that we're going to go to bat for current or former, that's very, very helpful.

But what I want to ask you about is our military and our military leadership. There was an article yesterday in "The Washington Post." General F. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as of Monday, Dunford still hadn't been briefed on Helsinki, even though it directly affects more than one million troops, Dunford, overseas.

Do you know why there would have been -- had been no briefing of General Dunford about the discussions that took place in Helsinki?

POMPEO: Senator, you will have to ask the Department of Defense or Chairman Dunford. KAINE: But you don't dispute that was -- you have no knowledge that

there was a briefing of General Dunford to today about the Helsinki discussion, do you?

POMPEO: Senator, you just read me a piece from "The Washington Post."

KAINE: Yes, but I'm asking your knowledge. Do you have any knowledge that the administration has shared discussions about U.S.-Russia military issues with the head of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff?

POMPEO: I have actually spoken with German Dunford about it. I was with him yesterday in a series of meetings and we had a chance to have a conversation about it, yes.

KAINE: OK.

POMPEO: About our plan, absolutely.

KAINE: OK. So, yesterday may have been the first time he was breached about it.

I want to ask you about General...

(CROSSTALK)

POMPEO: ... possible, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

KAINE: I was going to ask about General Votel, the information that Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Shaheen, mentioned earlier.

[16:15:07] He expressed wariness about working with Russia and the Russian defense ministry, I -- this is an interesting statement. They went after General Votel, the head of the CentCom, who oversees, as you know, U.S. military operations in the Middle East, including Syria.

Quote, with his statements, General Votel not only discredited the official position of his supreme commander-in-chief. Are you aware what the official position is that is being referenced in that statement?

POMPEO: You have to speak with the Russian minister of defense to know what it was he was referring to.

KAINE: But you can understand why we're concerned. If it's being reported in Russian press as Secretary Flake and Senator Flake and Senator Shaheen said that they're talking about official positions that the president has outlined. As far as you know, General Votel's statements did not violate any official position of the United States, did they?

POMPEO: You seem to be giving a great deal of credit to the Russian ministry of defense with truthfulness. I might not share that same -- KAINE: Let me ask you General Votel.

POMPEO: Great belief in his truthfulness.

KAINE: So, you do not believe that any of the statements that he's made, including those that I read violate any official position of the United States, do you?

POMPEO: If you would, that's best approached to General Votel, Department of Defense. I mean, I'm not, we're three orders removed, I'm sorry.

KAINE: If I could introduce for the record, there's an interesting article in "BuzzFeed News" just recently, today, that just lists a whole series of headlines and I think these are instructive, Mr. Chair.

Trump's announcement that he will end U.S.-Korean drills catches Pentagon off guard. Pentagon and Seoul surprised by Trump pledge to halt military exercises. Pentagon caught off guard by space force announcement.

Trump signals withdrawal very soon of U.S. troops from Syria, surprising Pentagon and State Department. Pentagon caught by surprise by Trump's travel ban pushes for some Iraqis to get special consideration. U.S. joint chiefs blindsided by Trump's transgender ban. NorthCom caught off guard as Trump orders troops to U.S.-Mexico border.

If I could introduce this for the record, Mr. Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

KAINE: I worry about an administration to take the Putin position over the intel community. I worry about the administration that would suggest it might be a great deal to consider handing over a former diplomat for questioning. I worry about an administration that is catching the Pentagon off guard, that is not consulting with General Dunford or briefing him for a week after a summit of this importance to our military.

Mr. Secretary, you're aware of the NDAA prohibition, the current prohibition, on Russian and U.S. joint military operations, are you not?

POMPEO: I'm aware of the existence of that provision, yes.

KAINE: The provision prohibits any use of funds. It's in the NDA. Any use of funds to support joint Russian and U.S. military exercises and the ability to undertake a national security waiver if he thinks that's the right idea.

Does the administration accept the legality and binding nature of that provision of law?

POMPEO: Senator, I -- I think the DOD general counsel would be the right person to ask about the NDA provision to have to do with complex issues that span the gap between I think what you are getting between deconfliction and coordination. It's a complex undertaking.

KAINE: But you --

POMPEO: Not a waiver that the State Department has the authority. But broadly, yes, this administration follows the law, if that's the question.

KAINE: OK. So, sitting here today, you're not aware of a legal concern that the administration has about this NDA --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're going to break away from this contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and go to the White House Rose Garden and where President Trump and the president of the European Commission, Jean- Claude Juncker, are about to speak.

Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate all of our great senators and so many of the representatives for being here.

Senator John Boozman? John, you're here some place. Hi, John. Thank you.

Senator Mike Crapo. Thank you, Mike.

Senator Steve Danes. Senator Hoeven. Thank you. They're all here.

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Cindy, thank you very much.

Senator James Lankford. James? Thank you, James.

Senator Pat Roberts. He loves those farms. He loves the farmers like I do.

Representative Diane Black. Diane, thank you.

Representative Kevin Brady. With our new tax bill. How's it coming, Kevin? Good?

Representative Mike Conaway. Mike? Thank you, Mike.

Representative Dan Newhouse. Thank you, Dan.

[16:20:01] Representative Kristi Noem. I have to call her governor now. That was a great win. Thank you, Kristi.

Representative David Reichert. David, thank you.

So, we had a big day. Very big. We met right here at the White House to launch a new phase in the relationship between the United States and the European Union, a phase of close relationship, of strong trade relations and both of us will win, of working better together for global security and prosperity and fighting jointly against terrorism. The United States and the European Union together account for more

than 830 million citizens and more than 50 percent of the global GDP. In other words, together we're more than 50 percent of trade. If we team up, we can make our planet a better, more secure and more prosperous place.

Already today, the United States and the European Union have a $1 trillion bilateral trade relationship, the largest economic relationship anywhere in the world. We want to further strengthen this trade relationship to the benefit of all American and European citizens.

This is why we agreed today first of all to work together toward zero tariffs, zero nontariff barriers and zero subsidies on non-auto industrial goods.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

We will also work to reduce barriers and increase trade and services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products as well as soybeans. Soybeans is a big deal. And the European Union is going to start almost immediately to buy a lot of soybeans. They're a tremendous market. Buy a lot of soybeans from our farmers in the Midwest primarily.

So, I thank you for that, Jean-Claude. This will open markets for farmers and workers, increase investment and lead to greater prosperity in both the United States and the European Union. It will also make trade fairer and more reciprocal. My favorite word. Reciprocal.

Secondly, we agreed to a strengthened and strengthening of our strategic cooperation with respect to energy. The European Union wants to import more liquefied natural gas, LNG, from the United States and they're going to be a very, very big buyer. We are going to make it much easier for them but they're going to be a massive buyer of LNG. So they'll be able to diversify their energy supply which they want very much to do and we have plenty of it.

Thirdly, we agreed today to launch a close dialogue on standards in order to ease trade, reduce bureaucratic obstacles and slash costs dramatically. Fourthly, we agreed to join forces to protect American and European companies from better and really better than ever -- we have never done like we are doing. I can say from the standpoint of the United States, we have never done this well but we're going to do a lot better after we do this deal and other deals that we are currently working on.

Likewise, the European Union is going to do better, stronger, bigger. We will, therefore, work closely together with like-minded partners to reform the WTO and to address unfair trading practices including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state-owned enterprises and overcapacity.

We decided to set up immediately an executive working group of very intelligent people on both sides. They'll be our closest advisers and they're going to carry out this joint agenda. In addition, it will identify short-term measures to facilitate commercial exchanges and assess existing tariff measures and what we can do about that to the betterment of both.

While we're working on this, we will not go against the spirit of this agreement unless either party terminates the negotiation. So, we're starting the negotiation right now but we know very much where it's going.

[16:25:04] We also will resolve the steel and aluminum tariff issues and we will resolve retaliatory tariffs. We have some tariffs that are retaliatory and that will get resolved as part of what we are doing.

And with that, Jean-Claude, please.

JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, when I was invited by the president to the White House I had one intention. I had the intention to make a deal today. And we made a deal today.

We have identified a number of areas on which to work together. Work towards zero tariffs on industrial goods. That was my main intention to propose, to come down to zero tariffs on industrial goods.

We have decided to strengthen our cooperation on energy. You will build more terminals to import liquefied natural gas from the U.S. This is also a message for others.

We agreed to establish a dialogue on standards. As far as agriculture is concerned, the European Union can import more soybeans from the U.S. and it will be done. And we also agreed to work together on the reform of WTO.

This, of course, is on the understanding that as long as we are negotiating, unless one party would stop the negotiations, we hold off further tariffs and reassess existing tariffs on steel and aluminum. This was a good, constructive meeting.

Thank you, Donald.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Jean-Claude. And --

(APPLAUSE)

I just want to conclude by saying this was a very big day for free and fair trade. Very big day, indeed.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: All right. That was the president and the president of the European Commission making an announcement to agree to work together on important issues.

Let's go back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: -- is not Korea continuing to pursue submarine launch ballistic missiles?

POMPEO: I can't answer that for you.

MARKEY: You can't answer that?

POMPEO: No, Senator.

MARKEY: I look forward to you providing that in a classified setting so that the members of this committee and ultimately the American people can know what is happening. I think it's pretty clear they are. But I will move on.

Has North Korea committed to you that it will destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles?

POMPEO: The North Koreans understand precisely the definition of denuclearization and have agreed to denuclearize.

MARKEY: Have they committed to destroying chemical weapons stockpiles?

POMPEO: Senator, we have talked about CBW. Their CBW program is being part of that denuclearization and as I said, they have indicated that they fully understand the scope of what denuclearization entails.

MARKEY: Have they committed to destroying their biological weapons?

POMPEO: In the same way I just described, Senator.

MARKEY: They have committed?

POMPEO: Senator, what I said is as follows. We have made very clear that the entirety of the North Korean CWB program is contained in the U.S. understanding of denuclearization and I am confident that the North Koreans understand clearly America's definition and they have agreed to denuclearize.

MARKEY: OK. Does the United States have an inventory of North Korea's warheads, materials, facilities and other programs?

POMPEO: Senator, I can't answer that here.

MARKEY: Has North Korea committed to halting its human rights abuses?

POMPEO: Senator, their human rights abuses continue today.

If I might say with respect to each of the questions, each of the activities that you have described was taking place on January 19th, 2017. And we are working to stop them, in ways that were not being undertaken prior to the time the Trump administration took office. There were full-on trade with North Korea --

MARKEY: I appreciate all that. I guess what I'm saying is I appreciate --

POMPEO: Yes. I think it's important to understand the progress that we've made and the efforts and the modalities we are using to stop the activity that have gone on for decades.

MARKEY: I'm just going back to the statement made by President Trump that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat and I'm just trying to determine what that means. And --

(CROSSTALK)

POMPEO: I'm happy to help and I'm happy to articulate --

MARKEY: Is there any verifiable evidence of progress towards denuclearization?

POMPEO: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

MARKEY: What is verifiable?

POMPEO: We are sitting at the table having conversations. We have had lots of discussions that I'm not going do get into here to today.