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Pompeo found Trump’s Ukraine call ‘wholly appropriate’

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he was on President Trump’s call with the leader of Ukraine and that “it was consistent with what President Trump has been trying to do to take corruption out." Pompeo sat down with Judy Woodruff to discuss the call at the center of impeachment inquiry into the president, as well as pulling troops out of Syria and China’s crackdown on Muslim minorities.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last week, we concluded our 10-part series on China.

    Earlier today, I sat down with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to ask him about a number of things we reported on in that China series.

    I also asked him about his role in President Trump's controversial telephone call with the president of Ukraine.

    But we began with the news today that Turkish troops have launched an assault in Northern Syria.

    Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Judy, it's great to be with you. Thanks for having me on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to turn first to Syria.

    Today, as you know, Turkish armed forces crossed the border into Northern Syria with a mission of, in essence, cleaning out, wiping out — wiping up the Syrian Kurds, the YPG.

    Right now, it appears that we don't know where this invasion is going to end up. Does the U.S. take responsibility for whatever the outcome is because the U.S. has given Turkey a green light?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Yes, well, that's just false.

    The United States didn't give Turkey a green light.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump spoke with President Erdogan, and, after the call, the president said that Turkey would be moving in. U.S. forces were withdrawn from the area.

    So there was a change in U.S. policy, one that you had supported. You had supported staying close to the YPG, the Kurdish — Syrian Kurdish U.S. allies that had helped in the fight against ISIS.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Well, remember the mission, Judy.

    The mission was that, when we came into office, there were people being beheaded, people being burned, people in cages. President Trump made the decision that we would begin a campaign that would take down the caliphate. We have succeeded in that.

    On the phone call on Sunday night, it became very clear that there were American soldiers that were going to be at risk. And the president made a decision to put them in a place where they were out of harm's way. That's what we have done.

    President Trump has been unambiguous about making sure that radical Islamic terrorism, wherever we find it, this administration will take it seriously. And I think the success that we have had in Syria, along with many allies of the defeat ISIS coalition that the State Department put together numbers countries in the dozens and dozens.

    I'm confident that we will continue to protect the American people from that terrorist threat.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Have you personally changed your thinking about being — viewing the YPG as U.S. allies?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The Turks have a legitimate security concern. We have talked about that. I have talked about that repeatedly. They have a terrorist threat to their South.

    We have been working to make sure that we did what we could to prevent that terror threat from striking the people in Turkey, while trying to achieve what is in America's best interest, the threat from radical Islamic terrorism emanating from Syria. We will continue to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's striking, the Republican opposition to this, not just the Senate majority leader, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who said it's a mistake, in essence.

    Lindsey Graham is — has called it a stain on our honor, American honor. This morning, he said this will ensure the reemergence of ISIS.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Yes, that's certainly not what I believe will happen.

    I'm — I'm confident that President Trump understands the threat. Remember where we were — and I love Senator Graham. He's a friend. But remember where we were when this administration came into office, and now just judge us by our results.

    We have achieved a good outcome there. We have taken down the caliphate. There are ISIS remnants that remain. We will continue to be in a position to do what we need to do to keep the American people as safe as we possibly can from this threat.

    But it is not only in Syria. It emanates from Iraq. There are a dozen other countries where the threat from radical Islamic terrorism continues to exist. And we, the United States, has to make sure we position our forces, our resources appropriately to reduce that threat to the United States.

    That's the — that's the mission set, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But just as a quick clarification, you're saying the U.S. doesn't take responsibility for whatever the outcome is here, casualties, ISIS reemergence, and so forth?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We're going to work to make sure that ISIS doesn't have the caliphate that extends across a broad swathe of Syria in Iraq, which is the place that we found ourselves when this president took office.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    The "NewsHour" has just completed a series of reports on China. And I want to ask you about what the administration is doing with regard to China.

    Just yesterday, the State Department has been and this week is stepping up sanctions on Chinese officials, Chinese firms that have been involved in repressing Muslim minorities in China, the Uyghurs, the Cossacks, and others.

    But how complicit, my question is, is China's top leader, Xi Jinping, in all of this?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Well, Xi Jinping leads the country. Just like the leader of a tank platoon, a small business or a country, you're responsible for the things that happen in your name. We have watched this in the dust-up this week with the NBA. But this problem extends far beyond this.

    The desire and the actions that had been taken on the ground to take down the Muslim faith or destroy the Uyghur ethnicity in the West there in China is something that the State Department has spoken out about loudly. And we hope China will change its direction.

    We think — I think this is not only an enormous human rights violation, but we don't think it's in the best interest of the world or of China to engage in this kind of behavior.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Will Mr. Xi himself be held accountable in the end, do you think?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We're doing everything we can to reverse the course of action that's been chosen there.

    We have — we have now put 28 new countries, Commerce Department, on the entity list, companies that were enabling the repression that's taken place there. The State Department did its part by placing visa restrictions.

    We are going to continue to talk about these human rights violations. As the president has said in another context, in Hong Kong, we want to make sure that these issues are handled in a way that is humane.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hong Kong. And you mentioned what's going on with regard to the NBA.

    The Chinese are now retaliating against Americans who speak out in favor of the protesters in Hong Kong, the manager of the Houston Rockets, the professional basketball team. They're now pulling — they won't air a couple of NBA games in China as a result.

    Is what their — how appropriate is this? What does it say about China that they're doing this?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Yes, I think American businesses have the right to make the decisions that they make, as long as they're lawful. They will have to make their own business decisions.

    But I think not only what we saw this week, but this has been going on for sometime. I think American businesses are waking up to the risks that attend to their company. It may seem — it may seem that it makes profit in the short run, but the cost, the reputational cost to these companies, I think, will prove to be higher and higher, as Beijing's long arm reaches out to them and destroys their capacity for them, their employees, in the NBA's case, team members and general managers to speak freely about their political opinion, something that we value so deeply here in the United States.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    There's been talk, as you know, about whether Hong Kong authorities will have the Chinese army involved in dealing with the protesters.

    Does the U.S. have a plan for what it would do if that happened?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The president has made clear our objectives there and the way that we want to make sure this proceeds.

    China made a commitment. It was with the United Kingdom, then submitted to the United Nations. They made a series of promises. And I think the whole world's watching. They're watching Beijing to see if it truly will live up to the commitments that it made.

    It made promises to the people of Hong Kong and, indeed, to the world about their system, one country, two systems. Our expectation is, they will continue to live up to that. And to the extent that they take action, the president has said it needs to be the case that they behave in a way that is humane.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The — our reporter Nick Schifrin, when he was in China, did extensive reporting, talked to a lot of officials about exporting — Chinese exporting their surveillance technology to many other countries, so that they can, frankly, surveil on their own citizens.

    Is it too late to stop the spread of Chinese technology for those kinds of purposes?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Judy, the world has got to make some decisions. And every country will make its own sovereign one.

    I have been out talking about this for a year-and-a-half now. The Chinese Communist Party has access to information that runs across Chinese networks. It's in their basic laws.

    I don't think it's in the best interest of any country to take the data from their private citizens, and place it in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.

    And I ultimately believe that the world will see that communications network that are built on Western values of openness, transparency, rule of law, contracts, property rights, all the things that we have come to know and rely on for our capacity to communicate around the world, I think the world will see that, and they will demand that every network, every system comply with those rules.

    So, no, I don't think it's remotely too late.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the so-called Belt and Road Initiative, China exporting its infrastructure expertise around the world, it's clear now — I mean, Nick Schifrin talked to a number, again, of officials who say the Chinese are everywhere with this.

    And they're — they say the U.S. is just not on the playing field.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Yes, so China is free to have their companies compete around the world. We want that. We encourage that.

    If they show up with a straight-up transaction, and a Chinese company beats a European company or an African country or an American company, so be it. That's fair. That's reasonable.

    But what you have seen and what we are pushing back against — and I will concede that, for 20 years, the world under-reacted to this, not only the United States, but all of the West. What you're beginning to see is an acknowledgement of this challenge, where these transactions aren't fair.

    They're showing up with money in brown paper bags. They're putting debt on nations that they can't possibly repay, so that they will ultimately be able to exert political influence. I think the world is waking up to these threats and these risks. And I am confident that, over time, this will not prevail.

    And to say that America is not present is just inaccurate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In just the short time that we have left, I want to raise Ukraine.

    You were on that phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine.

    Did you think at the time when you heard it that what the president was asking for was appropriate?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    You know, everyone keeps asking you about what the whistle-blower said on this phone call. I heard last night people talking about someone heard the call and was frightened.

    Well, we have the readout from the call. We have what was the best effort to put together a transcript from the call.

    And I know what this administration has done with respect to Ukraine. We have worked diligently on this. I'm proud of our results.

    I remember where Obama left Ukraine. It left it at 80 percent of the size that it was when he came into office. And Vladimir Putin hasn't done that.

    And I think, frankly, the most important reaction to that call, because I — I was on it — I — I was on the call. I listened to it. It was consistent with what President Trump has been trying to do, to take corruption out. I found that to be wholly appropriate, to try and get another country to stop being corrupt.

    But the most important reaction is from President Zelensky himself, who said, no, I didn't feel pushed, I didn't feel pressured.

    Everyone keeps suggesting that, somehow, there was undue pressure. I assure you, countries all around the world every day call me to try and get America to behave in the way that's in the best interest of their country. They try to apply pressure to me.

    And we work on it. We work on it diplomatically to achieve good outcomes for the American people. And the results, the results that President Trump has achieved with respect to our relationship with Ukraine, I think, will stand on their own as a hallmark of success of the State Department and what this administration has done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, just finally, you know that there's been no proof any misdoing on the part of Vice President Biden.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    You all keep repeating that line, as if you're working for the DNC.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm definitely not working for the DNC. I'm an independent journalist.

    But they're — the European Union, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations felt that that prosecutor was corrupt and thought he should be removed.

    There's no evidence that what Vice President Biden was doing was corrupt in some way.

    So, my question is, where's the — where's the rationale behind this?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    There is no one who has stared at Ukrainian activity over the last years that doesn't understand the risk of corruption from that government, oligarchs behaving in ways that are deeply inconsistent with basic fundamental rules of law, principles, private property.

    You — no — no one disputes that. For a nation to seek help from another country, to say, did you mess around in our elections in 2016, was there a corruption that was engaged in, that is completely appropriate activity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Have you decided, just finally, that there will be cooperation with the House impeachment inquiry?

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Oh, goodness, I have made clear, I think the White House has made very clear, we will ensure that we do everything we're required to do by the law and the Constitution, every time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Secretary Mike Pompeo, thank you very much.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    Thank you, Judy.

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