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‘Fear not,’ Pompeo reassures as senators raise foreign policy concerns

Two months, two summits, two mysteries: What did President Trump promise in his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend the administration and reassure lawmakers, while both Republicans and Democrats repeatedly expressed concerns. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Trump administration's foreign policy came under fire today on Capitol Hill. For the first time since President Trump met with leaders from North Korea and Russia, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was grilled at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

    Nick Schifrin has the story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Two months, two summits, two mysteries., What did the president promise in his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin…

  • President Donald Trump:

    Great to be with you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    … and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un?

    Today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the administration. But before he could even begin, Republican Chairman Bob Corker, who is not running for reelection, unloaded on the nation's top diplomat.

  • Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn:

    You come before a group of senators today who are filled with serious doubts about this White House and its conduct of American foreign policy. In the summit's aftermath, we saw an American president who appeared submissive and deferential.

    From where we sit, it appears that, in a ready, fire, aim, fashion, the White House is waking up every morning to making it up as they go.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pompeo began by trying to reassure senators on the administration's Russian policy, announcing what he called the new Crimea declaration. In 2014, Russian troops helped push through a Crimea referendum that led to its annexation.

    After, the U.S. imposed sanctions and refused to recognize Crimea as part of Russia. Pompeo reiterated those policies.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    I want to assure this committee that the United States does not and will not recognize the Kremlin's purported annexation of Crimea. There will be no relief of Crimea-related sanctions until Russia returns control of the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Republican and Democratic senators expressed repeated concerns about last week's summit in Helsinki, and what the president did and didn't offer, led by ranking member New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez.

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.:

    Did he tell Putin that I will release or ultimately relax sanctions?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Senator, what you need to conduct your role, your appropriate role, I will provide you today. And I can confirm to you that no commitment has been made to change those policies in any way.

    Senator, the president was very clear with Vladimir Putin about U.S. positions. They are the U.S. positions that are the Trump administration's positions. And he spoke about them very firmly and clearly when he met with Vladimir Putin.

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.:

    And that — he told you that?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    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.

    I understand. Senator, I understand the game that you're playing. I get it.

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.:

    With all due respect, I don't appreciate you characterizing my questions.

    My questions is to get to the truth. We don't know what the truth is.

    Let me ask you this. Were — did the president say that we're going to change our force structure in Syria?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Senator, presidents are permitted to have conversations with their Cabinet members that aren't repeated in public.

  • Dan Coats:

    I don't know what happened in that meeting.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, last week, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Cabinet member, admitted he hadn't gotten a readout. Today, Pompeo insisted the president was communicating with his staff and being tough on Russia.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    There's a narrative that has developed that somehow President Trump is weak on Russia, and when in fact the…

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Americans support the president's outreach to Russia. In a new "PBS NewsHour"/NPR/Marist poll, 59 percent of Americans think it's better to for the U.S. to build a relationship with Russia.

    But they don't support the president's style; 64 percent of Americans believe Trump has not been tough enough on Russia, including 47 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of independents.

    And 72 percent of Americans believe U.S. intelligence agencies' accusation that Russia interfered in 2016 over Russia's denials, including 63 percent of Republicans.

    Pompeo insisted the president agreed with U.S. intelligence agencies' assessment that Russia launched an influence campaign in the 2016 elections.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    He has a complete and proper understanding of what happened.

    I know. I briefed him on it for over a year.

    This is perfectly clear to me personally. I'm also certain he deeply respects the difficult and dangerous work that our patriots in the intelligence community do every single day.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In Congress, there's momentum for a new Russian sanctions package, and Pompeo came out in favor of a bill that would trigger automatic sanctions if the intelligence community concluded a foreign country meddled in U.S. elections.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    There is a cost-benefit calculation that's undertaken before the Russians act. And so it follows necessarily that putting on notice with essentially a failsafe, if you will, about things that will follow has the likelihood of being successful in raising the cost in terms of how he calculates risks associated with a very — a wide range of actions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Earlier this month, Pompeo made at least his fourth trip to North Korea to try and convince Kim Jong-un to verifiably give up as nuclear weapons.

    U.S. intelligence believes North Korea is dismantling an engine testing site. But North Korea has not made any other public concessions.

    And Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey worried the U.S. wasn't getting enough.

  • Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.:

    So, I am afraid that, at this point, the United States, the Trump administration is being taken for a ride.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Fear not, Senator. We have no intention of allowing the U.N. sanctions, the world's sanctions that we led the charge to have put in place, to allowing those sanctions to either be lifted or not enforced.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But even after two hours of testimony, Chairman Corker said he still had concerns, and he accused President Trump of purposely sowing discord in America's foreign policy.

  • Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn:

    I think you're a patriot. Tremendous faith in Mattis. But it's the president's actions that create tremendous distrust in our nation, among our allies. It's palpable. We meet and talk with them.

    Is there a strategy to this? Or is it — what is it that causes the president to purposely, purposely create distrust in these institutions and what we're doing?

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