Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Joining us now to talk about foreign policy now and in the future, the Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, thanks for the time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Bret. Thanks for having me on this evening.
QUESTION: So what do you say to world leaders who are reaching out to Joe Biden, now the president-elect, leaders from all kinds of countries – Belgium, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, the list goes on – even Saudi Arabia, which was President Trump’s first stop, congratulating President-elect Joe Biden from the king of Saudi Arabia? What do you say to them?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’ll actually be in Paris Monday, and I’m headed to Saudi Arabia after that. There’s still an awful lot of work to do. We’re reminding everyone that all the votes haven’t been counted. We need to make sure the legal process is fully complied with, and thet America will do what it does best. We’ll have a leader in the White House on noon on January 20th, and we’ll continue to execute American foreign policy. It’s what President Trump wants to make sure that our entire team does all the way through, every day. It’s what we’re focused on. It’s what I have my team focused on. There’s still a lot going on in the world. We’re pretty focused here in America on our own election. There’s lots still going on in the world, and we’re focused on making sure we keep Americans safe during this time period.
QUESTION: You were asked today about the concerns about a smooth transition, and you said it will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration. Were you being serious there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’ll have a smooth transition, and we’ll see what the people ultimately decided when all the votes have been cast. We have a process, Bret. The Constitution lays out how electors vote. It’s a very detailed process laid out. We need to comply with all of that.
And then I am very confident that we will have a good transition, that we will make sure that whoever is in office on noon on January 20th has all the tools readily available so that we don’t skip a beat with the capacity to keep Americans safe. That’s what I was speaking to today. I think it’s important for not only the American people but the whole world, especially our adversaries, to know that we will achieve this in a way that’s deeply consistent with the American tradition and keeps us all safe here at home.
QUESTION: Understanding that we’re following all of the legal ongoings in the various states, and you’re right, the electors aren’t chosen until December 14th, but there has been a concern in the past about transitions that have been delayed and that somehow on a national security front that makes the U.S. weaker at some point. Do you disagree with that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not worried about that at all. I was part of a transition on the other side. I came into an administration, President Obama’s, when I was the CIA director. We managed it. We did it very efficiently. It didn’t take as much time as some might be pretending that it’s going to take. I am very confident that all the things that need to be done will be done in an appropriate way, that we will deliver that. And if I am an adversary, I would not think for a moment that in this time between now and January that was the moment that they might have an opportunity. It’s simply not the case. President Trump and our team are on watch.
QUESTION: So that’s my first question. Is it improper for these foreign leaders to be reaching out to Joe Biden?
SECRETARY POMPEO: If they’re just saying hi, I suppose that’s not too terribly difficult. But make no mistake about it: We have one president, one secretary of state, one national security team at a time. It’s appropriate that it be that way.
Bret, I will say this: One of the things that I have observed now almost four years into my time in this administration is the previous folks just refused to get off the stage. So they talk about healing and all these transitional things. Frankly, I’ve watched Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, and John Kerry and Wendy Sherman be active on the world stage in ways that weren’t consistent with what the Trump administration is doing. I regret that it wasn’t in America’s best interest that they chose to behave that way.
QUESTION: For all the focus back at the beginning of the Trump administration on incoming national security advisor Michael Flynn and his phone calls and the talk about the Logan Act, are you worried that that is happening now?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m always worried when people are engaging in activities, speaking with foreign leaders, in a way that represents things, that might be representing things that aren’t true or might be attempting to influence American foreign policy in ways that are inconsistent with what the law requires. You know the Logan Act. I know the Logan Act. I hope that all those folks who are out there having these conversations aren’t violating that law. I’m sure the Department of Justice will be keeping a good eye on that for us.
QUESTION: Foreign policy didn’t get a ton of coverage in the presidential election – a little bit. But what’s your biggest concern with a Joe Biden foreign policy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I think America’s biggest concern ought to be that we’ll return to a policy of appeasement. And I think the administration used the term “leading from behind.” It’s the antithesis of what President Trump has done. We’ve been very realistic, whether that was moving the embassy to Jerusalem or taking down Qasem Soleimani and reducing the threat from Iran or recognizing for the first time in 40 years that the Chinese Communist Party presented an enormous threat to the security of the American people and, frankly, jobs and our American economy.
I think the things that the Obama administration did put Americans in a worse place. I think that people’s jobs and lives were less secure than they have been for these past four years. And I hope that a president who comes into office in the middle of January of next year will have a much more robust, more capable, more confident national security approach than what they had for those eight years.
QUESTION: Which is the more imminent threat right now: Iran, Russia, China?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, those are hard questions to answer, and when I think about the challenges that America is presented over the next five or ten years, the Chinese Communist Party is absolutely the central threat. They are here. They are influencing the way we think about the world. They have technologies that are very capable. They have stolen intellectual property that’s destroyed millions of jobs in places like Kansas and Iowa and Michigan in our heartland. We cannot let that happen, continue to happen, and President Trump has made real progress in getting the world to recognize this threat.
QUESTION: Should Joe Biden be receiving the presidential daily brief, the classified version?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave that to others to sort out whether that’s appropriate or not at this point.
QUESTION: When you say that it’s going to be a second Trump administration, the President has tweeted out that this is a corrupt election, that Democrats are trying to steal the election from him, does it make it harder for the State Department in dealing with other countries where we have tried to say to them: a democratic republic and our way of voting is the way to go?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s a great question, Bret. I don’t think that’s the case at all. In my time at the State Department we have worked hard in countries all over the world to help them build out election infrastructure, to make sure that they had transparency, to make sure that they followed their own rules, their own systems. That’s all we’re asking for is to make sure that we follow our own rules, our own Constitution, our own law. We have a transparent system, one that we need to keep pressing on. We need to make sure that every vote that was legal is counted and those that might not have been legal aren’t counted unless they were.
That’s what we ask in countries all across the world. I think they see us doing that. I actually think other countries reflect on how America is proceeding through this process, and I think they’re encouraged by the fact that the rule of law is something that matters here. It’s something that we at the State Department encourage every nation across the world to do.
QUESTION: Two more things. One was some people were surprised that your West Point classmate, Secretary Esper, was fired. Were you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark’s a good friend, and Mark has served this nation both in his time when we were cadets and his time in uniform. I wish him well. The president gets to choose those folks that he wants to serve. And I’ll leave it there, other than to say I am proud of the work that the entire team that the President’s had for my four years has accomplished. I’m hopeful we’ll have more time to continue to work to keep Americans safe.
QUESTION: You fought to have Gina Haskell at CIA, the FBI director currently. Do you think the President is going to make changes there as well?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ll leave those decisions about people to the President. I’m focused on the mission. I’m focused on working with the team to make sure that we deliver on behalf of the American people.
QUESTION: Okay, last thing: 2024. Either way, do you have aspirations politically, either at the highest office in the land or a certain Kansas Senate seat that may come open?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Bret, you know me better than that. I appreciate you asking. (Laughter.) But I’m focused on what I’m doing today. I’ll keep at that.
QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, we appreciate your time, and we’ll check back in before January 20th.
SECRETARY POMPEO: That sounds great, Bret. Thank you, sir.