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How The Impeachment Inquiry Has Tarnished Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has tried to stay out of the limelight in the impeachment inquiry, but as deposition transcripts are released, his role is coming into sharper focus.

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Transcript:

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Germany to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall - Germany, of course, being far away from the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, which is probably just fine with the secretary, who has tried to avoid the spotlight in the impeachment drama. Nevertheless, career diplomats have been testifying, and Pompeo does not come across very well in those depositions, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Mike Pompeo says he walked down memory lane today visiting a German town where he served in the U.S. Army during the Cold War. Following him, though, are many questions about U.S. policy toward the former Soviet republic of Ukraine. At issue is whether the administration delayed security assistance this summer in order to get the Ukrainians to open investigations that are of personal interest to Trump.

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MIKE POMPEO: What happened in Washington this year was that we provided $250 million worth of security assistance, defense assistance and $140 million or so of additional security assistance, just like happened in fiscal year '18 and fiscal year '17.

KELEMEN: He didn't comment on the delay in that aid or the reasons behind it, nor did he answer a question about the ambassador he recalled from Ukraine earlier this year. Marie Yovanovitch was facing a series of false allegations spread in part by Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. She's testified that she was told she did nothing wrong but that the secretary could no longer protect her - from whom, Pompeo was asked at that press conference with Germany's foreign minister.

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POMPEO: You can see the media in Washington fixated on a lot of things that you and I didn't spend any time talking about today.

KELEMEN: House committees have released hundreds of pages of closed-door testimony ahead of next week's public hearings. One longtime diplomat, Mike McKinley, said in his deposition that he tried several times to get Pompeo to put out a statement of support for Yovanovitch in late September after reading that Trump called her bad news in a phone call with Ukraine's president. Pompeo would only say that McKinley didn't raise concerns when Yovanovitch was first withdrawn from Ukraine.

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POMPEO: In May, when that took place, he didn't say a thing to me.

KELEMEN: McKinley quit before testifying about his contacts with Pompeo on this. In another deposition, the current acting ambassador, Bill Taylor, describes a cable he sent to Pompeo raising concerns about what he called the folly of withholding security assistance to Ukraine at a time when Russia was watching. He didn't get a response, though he heard that the secretary brought those concerns to the White House.

The White House has called those who have testified radical unelected bureaucrats. A former ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer, says many are frustrated that Pompeo has not stood up for diplomats who are carrying out U.S. policy, nor has he distanced himself from Trump's private lawyer who is pushing the president's personal agenda.

STEVEN PIFER: I think he's done a lot of damage in the last five or six months by his silence on, for example, what happened to Ambassador Yovanovitch and then the recent criticism leveled at his officers. And it creates the impression that, you know, his audience is really one person who's sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

KELEMEN: That sentiment is echoed by Alexander Vershbow, a three-time U.S. ambassador and former deputy secretary general of NATO.

ALEXANDER VERSHBOW: Secretary Pompeo has clearly made a calculated decision to stand with President Trump and implicitly support the White House smear campaign against State Department officials who have chosen to uphold their oath of office.

KELEMEN: Those who have testified do so under subpoena without public support from Pompeo. But he did hint today that help might be on the way, at least to cover part of their mounting legal fees.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.