How Pompeo Became Trump’s Most Loyal Soldier
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The Backstory | The Backstory | Episode 20
How Pompeo Became Trump’s Most Loyal Soldier
The staff writer Susan B. Glasser reports on how Mike Pompeo reinvented himself and went from an obscure congressman to Trump’s most influential adviser on international affairs.
Read the story.
Released on 08/19/2019
[logo chiming]
[tense music]
Mike Pompeo is the last survivor, if you will,
in Donald Trump's Cabinet
from his original national security team.
He's the Secretary of State.
He was the CIA director.
How did this obscure congressman
from Wichita, Kansas, of all places,
become the most influential person,
aside from Trump himself
when it comes to American foreign policy
at this disruptive and unsettling moment,
and what do we really know about him?
What I found as I started sort of digging
into Mike Pompeo more
was that this was kind of a casualty
of the accountability reporting
about senior figures in the U.S. government
that we used to do
back when we had more time to do those things
and we didn't have a president
who was such an all-consuming scandal himself.
[tense music]
The piece starts out with then-Congressman Mike Pompeo
in Kansas.
It's March 5th, 2016,
and that's the date of the Kansas presidential caucuses.
Donald Trump was rolling towards the Republican nomination,
but he hadn't quite locked it up yet.
Mike Pompeo had endorsed Marco Rubio,
as did a lot of other Republican members of Congress.
Pompeo gets up there
and he gives this speech attacking Donald Trump.
[audience applauding]
You know, Donald Trump, the other day said
that quote, if he tells a soldier to commit a war crime,
the soldier will just go do it.
He said, They'll do as I tell them to do.
[audience booing]
We've spent 7 1/2 years with an authoritarian president
who ignored our Constitution.
We don't need four more years of that.
I realized, listening to the speech of Mike Pompeo
back in 2016,
that I've never really heard him go off
on Trump in a video form.
Mike Pompeo is very, very sensitive
about even the appearance of being caught out
disagreeing with Donald Trump.
I think he is worried about the idea
that Donald Trump is gonna remember back
to March 5th, 2016,
and that day that he was backstage
in a Wichita arena saying,
Who the heck is this congressman?
Flash forward a few months later,
Mike Pompeo, along with all the other Republicans
in the Kansas delegation,
endorsed Trump after he locked up the nomination.
The flip-flop from Marco Rubio to Donald Trump
is not the only flip-flop in Mike Pompeo's life.
He's had a number of really striking transitions.
I think this notion of Pompeo being able to
go into new environments
and to understand them and to succeed in them
is something that characterizes this life
filled with really striking transformations.
[tense music]
From the beginning, there were a couple of things
that leapt out at me about Pompeo's biography
as I thought I knew it.
One of those was his financial disclosure form
and the fact that he was the poorest member
of Donald Trump's Cabinet.
He talks about having a open Bible on his desk
at the State Department.
In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk
to remind me of God and his word.
He presents as this heartland evangelical,
sort of devout, humble, very anti-government,
anti-environmental-protection guy from Kansas.
That's his public persona.
The first thing you realize about Pompeo
is that he's actually not even from Kansas.
He grew up in Orange County, California, in the '60s.
He came from a family whose parents
didn't even go to college,
and he got into West Point
and he did amazingly well there,
and he got into Harvard Law School,
and then he goes to Washington
and he gets a job at Williams & Connolly,
one of Washington's most blue chip law firms,
and he married his college sweetheart
the same weekend that he graduated from West Point,
and then something happened. [dramatic music]
[tense music]
He's never spoken openly or publicly
about what kind of a crisis he went through
in this period of time.
What he said is that he had the opportunity
to move to Kansas,
and that's when he started Thayer Aerospace.
He quit this law firm job
after really only a little bit more than two years.
He got divorced from his wife.
He has moved to Wichita
and he has joined up with these West Point friends
and he's starting his whole life over again.
And I wanna speak to you this morning, Kansan to Kansan.
As an old Army guy,
I want to speak to those of you
who have served our country in uniform, veteran to veteran.
Before I lost my mind and ran for Congress,
I ran a small, dirty, smelly, beautiful machine shop.
I wanna talk to you this morning,
manufacturing guy to manufacturing guy,
about jobs in America.
[plane engine roaring]
Wichita was known as the air capital of America,
and so there was a whole kind of ecosystem
of smaller companies
that catered to those big aircraft manufacturing companies,
and they could buy up a whole bunch of those companies,
put them together into one bigger company,
and it would make a lot of sense.
And so they raised money in order to do that.
Pompeo seemed to be very eager
to minimize and to deflect questions
about the role in the wealthy, the billionaire Koch brothers
in financing this company, Thayer Aerospace,
and the level of support that they had given to it.
And so when he came to Congress in 2011,
he and his aides told the Washington Post
that the Koch brothers' venture capital fund
had only given 2% of the investment in Thayer Aerospace.
And in fact, it wasn't 2%,
but according to documents that were on file
with the Kansas Secretary of State
but had never been published,
it was closer to 20%.
Secretary Pompeo, congratulations again.
I have no doubt that you will make America proud
as our nation's chief diplomat.
[audience applauding]
There was this enormous opportunity
for someone like Mike Pompeo that Donald Trump presented.
Of course, the problem was that he doesn't agree
with Donald Trump on just about anything.
Donald Trump trash talks everybody,
and yet you will not find Donald Trump
publicly saying a bad word about Mike Pompeo.
You don't give power.
I think one of the key things that Pompeo has done,
probably in a fairly calculated way,
which is to make sure that Trump
never felt threatened by him,
and that seems to be one of the most salient reasons
for Pompeo's remarkable rise.
[tense music]
Every Secretary of State and every president
have disagreements.
Every administration has internal fights over policies.
Let's be clear about what's unique
to the Trump administration and what's not.
It wouldn't be unique for a Mike Pompeo Secretary of State
to disagree with a Donald Trump president
in any era of our history.
What's unique is the way in which the president
has personalized foreign policy
and made loyalty the supreme test of service
in his administration.
Mike Pompeo gets furious if his loyalty
to Donald Trump is questioned
or his accuracy is questioned,
and yet he publicly is often forced to defend things
that are indefensible that Trump says or does,
or things that are untrue.
Senator, I'm telling you what he had a conversation
with Vladimir Putin about,
and I'm telling you what U.S. policy is today.
Senator, I understand the game that you're playing.
I get it. No, no, no.
Mr. Secretary, with all due respect,
I don't appreciate you characterizing my questions.
My question is just to get to the truth.
We don't know what the truth is.
Pompeo is a survivor, but for how long?
It's a personal story about somebody
who wanted to be always defined as a success,
who's had success,
and yet was somehow, that wasn't enough.
He had to cover up or to mislead or to obfuscate
about periods in his life
that he could have been transparent about.
I really believe that facts matter
and I really believe that it does matter
that an agglomeration of little untruths
in somebody's public biography
can end up being an abuse of the public trust.
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