Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Merry Christmas to you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Merry Christmas to you as well, Mark. It’s great to be with you.
QUESTION: It’s always a pleasure. First, let me ask you this question: You’ve been Secretary of State how long?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Two and a half years and change after being CIA director.
QUESTION: CIA director, Secretary of State. These are two incredibly prominent positions, foreign policy positions. You’ve worked with President Trump for some time now. Enormous accomplishments by the President and you supporting the President’s agenda, and one of them is confronting China. You’ve been confronting China. You’ve been talking out about China. You’ve been explaining that China is a grave threat to the country. Do you think people now understand that, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark, I think they do more than they did four years ago by leaps and bounds, and I think the public has become deeply aware of all the risks that the Chinese Communist Party presents. It’s a direct result of the good work that the President’s done along with the team that he assembled. They can see it, right? Some of them have lost their jobs to Chinese companies that stole their software, their intellectual property. Some of them see it in their schools. They see these Chinese students that are acting in ways that are deeply inconsistent with just somebody who’s coming to study.
So I do think there’s an ever-wider knowledge of that, and of course, we’re all still suffering from this virus that I think the world can now see the Chinese Communist Party covered up and foisted upon the world and – from Wuhan, and now we’re all suffering. Many lives lost and a huge economic impact on the world as well.
QUESTION: But you don’t get much help getting this message out in American media, do you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No. In many cases, you see American media is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party. Big media empires have operations, right? It’s 1.4 billion people in China and they want to serve that market, so they want to sell their movies or their streaming products there, and so they often bend a knee, kowtow to them. It’s unfortunate. So that means their news organizations oftentimes too are reluctant to cover these transgressions from China and worse, Mark, sometimes they actually mouth Chinese propaganda. That’s the worst of it all.
QUESTION: And they did this when the virus hit. When the President, you, and others talked about the Wuhan, China virus, they said no, no, no, no, no, that’s racist. And then they blame the President for every single death that results from this virus. Don’t you find this appalling, really?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I do. That is the same narrative that General Secretary Xi Jinping drives and his foreign ministry drives and the People’s China Daily and the Global Times of China. That is the same Chinese propaganda that somehow suggests – you’ll remember when they tried to say that it was an American soldier who had wrought this on the world. This is disinformation. And when our media picks that up, when our media refuses to report on the fact that even to this day, Mark, the Chinese Communist Party hasn’t allowed an investigation into where this began inside of Wuhan, that’s so telling. I saw a CNN piece the other day where they said oh my goodness, it looks like the Chinese may have lied and said this was breaking news. It was stunning to see a major media outlet behave in that way, and unfortunately, it deceives the American people and doesn’t give them information that’s important for them to protect their liberty and their freedom.
QUESTION: We have a regime, this communist regime in China that is running concentration camps. All kinds of information coming out about murder, about torture, about sterilization, abortions, rapes, the most horrific things you can think of – slave labor, and also a report came out the other day that more journalists have been jailed in China for the second year in a row than any other country on the face of the Earth. I didn’t even see that reported in the main media.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark, this story about what’s happening in western China – you described them as concentration camps. I think that’s a very, very fair description. The media has under-reported this. Nobody said a word about it until President Trump and our team began to unpack what was really taking place there. We’d known it, the world had known it, but no leaders were prepared to go talk about what was actually happening there.
So we need – that story’s important because we know history. We know when authoritarian regimes behave this way and take on people who are different from them, we know the kinds of things that can happen. I remember reading your book Liberty and Tyranny. We know this history so well, Mark, that we have an obligation to make sure we identify it, call it out, and do everything we can to make sure that at the very least American companies aren’t participating in furthering this kind of activity.
QUESTION: We could spend all evening on China. Let me move to Russia. It’s bizarre to me, first, the Democratic Party that always had an affinity towards Brezhnev and the Soviet Union, as I seem to recall, and it was Reagan who came in and called them the evil empire, and they attacked him. And it’s Reagan that broke the back of the Soviet Union, every step of the way fought by the media and the Democratic Party, just as you and the President are. Now they had this Russia collusion thing, and yet there are also people on the Republican side who say Russia’s not an enemy, Russia’s not – it’s like we have to choose between enemies. We have multiple enemies. I mean, is not Russia aiming really big nuclear missiles at the United States?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark, it is the case that I get asked all the time who’s our enemy, and the answer is we have lots of folks that want to undermine our way of life, our republic, our basic democratic principles. Russia is certainly on that list. Your point about their nuclear weapons is very real and the efforts that they’re making. You see the news of the day with respect to their efforts in the cyber space. We’ve seen this for an awfully long time, using asymmetric capabilities to try and put themselves in a place where they can impose costs on the United States.
So yes, Vladimir Putin remains a real risk to those of us who love freedom, and we have to make sure that we prepare for each of them. Today, I rank China as the challenge that truly presents an existential threat, but I don’t minimize the risk that having hundreds and hundreds of nuclear warheads capable of reaching the United States imposes – an enormous risk on us as well.
QUESTION: From my pedestrian point of view, and that’s all it is, I agree with you 100 percent that they need to be on that list. Now, this attack, I guess our government is still sorting it out and so forth. Reports are coming out this is a massive attack on our computer systems and our software systems, correct?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s right. I can’t say much more as we’re still unpacking precisely what it is, and I’m sure some of it will remain classified. But suffice it to say there was a significant effort to use a piece of third-party software to essentially embed code inside of U.S. Government systems and it now appears systems of private companies and companies and governments across the world as well. This was a very significant effort, and I think it’s the case that now we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.
QUESTION: And yet I’m hearing these news reports and frankly listening to Mitt Romney saying the President needs to speak out, the President needs to speak out. I assume sometimes behind the scenes there’s an awful lot of work being done that can’t be spoken about yet if the perpetrators are going to be tracked down and the details are going to be determined. Am I right?
SECRETARY POMPEO: That’s absolutely true. I saw this in my time running the world’s premier espionage service at the CIA. There are many things that you’d very much love to say, “Boy, I’m going to call that out,” but a wiser course of action to protect the American people is to calmly go about your business and defend freedom.
QUESTION: Let me move to the Middle East. This administration has had more successes in the Middle East than any administration before. You’ve got multiple peace deals breaking out in the Middle East. You’ve got Israel and these Arab countries united against a very, very dangerous Iranian regime. The Iranian regime insists on pushing ahead with nuclear weapon development. It really is in a dangerous condition – that is, the regime – of toppling given what the President of the United States has done with the Iran deal and the sanctions and so forth. Are you concerned that some of the people Biden’s talking about should he make his way into the Oval Office, the way Clapper talks about these things and the way others talk about these things – are you concerned that all the advances that have been made by these countries in the Middle East, all the risks that they’ve taken, everything that you’ve done, the President has done, could potentially be unraveled?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark, I always want to give others a fair shot, but we know who these people are that he’s proposed to be part of his administration should that come to pass, and we know what they did for eight years. They appeased Iran. They allowed Iran to conduct terror around the world. They wrote them big checks and transferred pallets of cash to them. They abandoned our true ally, Israel. They did nothing to really advance peace and stability in the Middle East. They assumed that, boy, until we solve the Palestinian problem it’s not possible to advance the peace elements inside the Middle East.
President Trump broke that down. We flipped it on its ear and we said no, we can advance security and prosperity in the Middle East. We want to solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but we’re not going to let this stand in the way of increasing the capacity for the Middle East to be more stable, because that, in fact, is part of “America first.” That protects the American people as well.
And so I am hopeful that whoever is running the United States Government in 2021 understands that the Middle East is a very different place today than it was in 2015 and that appeasement of the Iranian regime will only lead to risk for the American people.
QUESTION: You know it’s amazing as I sit and watch this, Mr. Secretary. There has been peace in the Middle East now for years as a result of the Trump policies and your efforts in diplomacy as Secretary of State for years. You don’t see all the – I’m sure it’s there, but you don’t see all the tumult that was taking place during the Obama-Biden years, do you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark, I think people sometimes underestimate how successful President Trump’s policies have been there. We’ve done all of this by just recognizing two basic facts: one, the central destabilizing force in the region is, in fact, the regime in Iran; and second, the fundamental right of Israel to exist, for Jerusalem to be the homeland and capital of the Jewish state, that the Golan Heights belongs to Israel. Just acknowledging those central facts in the region gave force and power and capacity for the Gulf states to recognize that it was in their best interest to sign up and be partners alongside of Israel.
And then the last thing was, I think too, President Trump demonstrated that it is possible to exercise American power without sending large numbers of forces to the region. When we saw a threat, we killed Qasem Soleimani. When the caliphate was beginning to present a risk to the United States, we partnered with folks on the ground there and took down the entire caliphate in Syria and western Iraq. We did it with a relatively small American footprint. We didn’t put many of our boys and girls at risk. And we have now delivered in a way that I think the Gulf states can now see America will be their partner, will be their friend, and will be there to help them be safer so that we can secure America as well.
QUESTION: Let me just say this. I’ve been around a long time. I’m actually older than you. You know that? (Laughter.) I’ve been around a long time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Not by much, Mark. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, let me tell you this, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart. There have been two truly great secretaries of state, George Shultz and you, two truly great secretaries of state. I want to thank you and may God bless you and have a wonderful holiday.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mark, thank you for those kind words. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas to you, Mark.
QUESTION: Now God bless you. Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: God bless you, too. So long, sir.