QUESTION: We’ll just get right into it, the news of the day.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: My understanding is a senior adviser for you has resigned. Can you tell me why?
SECRETARY POMPEO: You know I don’t talk about personnel matters, but I’ve known Mike McKinley for quite some time, and he’s been with the State Department for 37 years. He told me for lots of good and sufficient reasons for him and his family he wanted to go on and begin the next phase of his life.
QUESTION: But it’s not something that – you said you didn’t want to talk about personnel matters, but is it something that you – you didn’t ask for his resignation, or can you talk any more about it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t talk about personnel matters, especially when you come to a place like Nashville, where you’re here for a mission to talk to the people of Nashville about the amazing work that folks in the Foreign Service, folks in the Civil Service, are doing on behalf of the American people each and every day.
QUESTION: What’s the speech about in about an hour, and why did you choose this group?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I was invited by this group to come talk to them about religious freedom, something President Trump has been incredibly focused on. We take it for granted sometimes here in the United States. We have it embedded within our Constitution, this first freedom to exercise your conscience, to practice religion if you want to, or not to if you don’t. Too many people – over 80 percent of the people around the world – live in countries where that’s not the case, and we think it’s really important to promote that value set around the world. I want to talk about not only why we’re doing it but how we’re doing it, and how the group of people here today can help the State Department in its mission.
QUESTION: We’re going to go back to some of the issues in Washington. You very well know, I’m sure, that Nashville has the largest Kurdish population of any city in the country. What do you say to those folks about what’s been going on there, the removal of the U.S. troops and what’s happened the last couple of days with Turkey?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve watched what America has done on behalf of northeast Syria, where there are many, many Kurds. We came into an administration that wasn’t doing remotely enough to take down the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, from ISIS in this case, in northeast Syria, where the majority of these Kurds live.
President Trump came in. We’ve devoted resources, we’ve focused on it, and we’ve destroyed – we crushed – the caliphate. We’re proud of that. We keep America more secure, and frankly, we’ve helped the Kurdish people be more secure in their own region there in Syria and in western Iraq as well, where there are many Kurds too.
Today, we are working diligently, even as I sit here, to convince Turkey, President Erdogan, that the right thing to do is to stand down and to make clear to him that it would be unacceptable for him to engage in activity that would put significant numbers of Kurdish people at risk.
QUESTION: Were you surprised when the decision came down to remove U.S. troops earlier in the week from that region?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The decision that was made was by President Erdogan. President Erdogan made the decision to invade Syria. President Trump’s decision was – on Sunday evening he said we have not too many soldiers in that particular space, they’re at risk, pull them back, get them out of harm’s way. The Turks were coming down in significant numbers. President Erdogan made very clear his intention to do that. And President Trump made the right decision to get those American soldiers out of harm’s way.
Now our mission, the State Department mission, is to do everything we can using economic power, diplomatic power – all the tools available to us – to ensure that Turkey doesn’t do what Erdogan has said that they just may do.
QUESTION: As we sit here, you said that you’re working on it as we speak or —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, my team. I’ve got a team on the ground in country, in Turkey, in the region. We’re working with capitals. I’m going to speak to European – my European counterparts this afternoon. We are mobilizing the world to do the thing that will help protect the Kurdish people there in northeast Syria. We know it’s important, we know it’s the right thing to do, and America is committed to achieving that.
QUESTION: I think as we speak right now, there is a member of the State Department who is appearing before a House Democrat committee. Is that something that comes through you, that you say, “Okay, go ahead and do that.” How does that work?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So there are legal proceedings that the House is engaged in. I’ve made it very clear we’re going to do everything we’re required to do by the United States Constitution. I served as a member of Congress. I was in the House of Representatives, so I know Article I’s duties to conduct oversight. I also know our task as the Executive Branch is to make sure that we protect the information, that we protect our employees. I worry we don’t have a State Department lawyer in there helping to make sure that the information – that the information the American people want – to make sure it doesn’t get out, is protected adequately. That’s not appropriate. It’s the wrong way for the House of Representatives to behave. I hope they’ll change the way they’re conducting this. But the people of the United States should know that the State Department and President Trump will always comply with the law.
QUESTION: So right now, honoring the subpoenas from House Democrats – what is the State Department official position?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ll work – we’re going to do everything we’re lawfully required to do. Period. Full stop. It’s my duty. I raised – rose – raised my right hand, said I’ll faithfully execute, and I will. And so will my whole team.
QUESTION: You were on the call on the Ukrainian president, July 25th I believe, Zelensky. Were there red flags for you on that? Or did people come to you and say, “Mr. Secretary, I think there was something untoward here”?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the State Department’s view with respect to Ukraine has been consistent for my year and a half as Secretary of State. President Trump’s phone call was consistent with the objectives too.
First, it was to provide support for Ukraine. The threats that Vladimir Putin poses to them – you’ll recall in the previous administration Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, invaded the Donbas southeast region of Ukraine, and President Obama sent them blankets. President Trump made the decision to say no, we’re going to seriously support Ukraine. We’re going to provide them with money and resources, defensive weapon systems, so that they can protect themselves and do our best to prevent Vladimir Putin from taking any more real estate inside of Ukraine.
Our second mission has been to make sure that when America provides taxpayer dollars that they go to the right places, that corruption doesn’t drive that money into someone’s pocket, as opposed to the purpose that money was intended for. And President Trump’s been very focused. He has said I’m very concerned about Ukrainian corruption. We want to drive it out. If there was corruption taking place there in 2016 or 2018 or if there’s the risk that corruption of the monies that we’re going to send to them in the days and weeks ahead – we want to make sure that we understand that risk and we’re going to ask this new leader, Mr. Zelensky, to drive that corruption out of the system. And frankly, it’s what he campaigned on, and we intend to continue to support him.
QUESTION: If I can do one more and ask about the NBA and —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. I mean, this – I’m told this is something you’d like to talk about. An NBA executive tweets support for the Hong Kong protestors. Does this harm what is going on in the delicate negotiations with China, between the U.S. —
SECRETARY POMPEO: The trade negotiations are ongoing, but importantly, there are deep, important freedoms that American businesses are entitled to. We hope that those companies will all make good decisions and not put profits over principles. This was – this all started with a singular tweet. I think the Chinese Communist Party can withstand a singular tweet. I hope that they’ll begin to get this right.
What I think American companies are beginning to see is that President Trump’s effort to get fair, reciprocal, even trade systems permeates what’s going on in this relationship. We just want things to be the same. When Chinese companies come here, they’re free to come here. And if they want to be critical of what America does, some American policy, they’re entitled to speak their piece. American businesses and American companies should demand that those same rights are extended to them. Fair, reciprocal, balanced trade, a fair and reciprocal relationship between the United States and China – that’s what President Trump’s been driving for, and I’m confident that we’re further along that way today than we have been.
QUESTION: Thank you for your time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir.
QUESTION: Appreciate it.