QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for talking with us today on News Channel 5.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me here. It’s great to be in Nashville.
QUESTION: You are here to give a speech at the American Association of Christian Counselors. We’ll get to that in one moment. But first, I want to get to the breaking news this morning that Iranian officials are saying that an Iranian tanker has been hit by two missiles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. What is the latest that you’re hearing about this right now, where these missiles may have come from, and what this means for the continued tensions between the United States and Iran?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve seen this reporting as well, but I don’t have anything that I can add to that, other than back on September 14th we had a significant attack by Iran, from Iran, on 5 percent of the world’s global energy supply. And our mission set has been to put in place the resources, the capability to deter that, to take down the tension, to take down risk, so that we can protect the American people and the global economy.
QUESTION: As we mentioned, you’re here to give a speech in Nashville today. It’s about the topic of religious freedom. This is a topic that both you and the administration have been very outspoken about. Why in particular is this topic so important to you? And what’s the message that you want to get across to the folks in Nashville today?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I love traveling inside the United States to make sure they understand what their State Department is doing around the world to protect their values, their security. And so today’s mission is part of that, to talk about one element of what the State Department has been working on, to preserve and protect the religious freedom of religious minorities all around the world. And we’ll see that in the way China is mistreating the Uighurs in Xinjiang. We see this in other parts of the world as well. And the State Department is on the frontlines, protecting the right of every person around the globe to exercise their conscience in the way that Americans are so proud that we get to do as part of our fundamental, basic human rights.
QUESTION: You mentioned the Uighurs in China. This week, you increased sanctions, visa restrictions on officials in China who are taking part in the oppression of those Muslim minorities, the Uighurs, some of whom are sent to camps against their will in China. Are those restrictions, along with all the other pressure that’s being faced to China right now – is that going to be enough to get China to change the direction here?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I hope so. I hope the world will unite against this very serious threat to the basic, fundamental rights of these people living in the western parts of China. This is an attempt to stamp out their religion and to attack the ethnicity of certain groups there in China. It’s of a scale that we don’t often see around the world. And we hope that China and the Chinese leadership will see that it’s not in their best interest; it’s certainly not in the best interest of their people. So President Trump’s efforts, the administration efforts, that’s – are aimed at changing the direction the Chinese leadership has moved in.
QUESTION: The Chinese embassy today responded to those visa restrictions by saying that the United States calling what’s happening in China a human rights violation is a, quote, “made-up pretext” to justify the U.S. interfering in China affairs. What’s your response to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re not interfering in Chinese affairs. We’re speaking out on behalf of a set of people who are being treated in a way that’s deeply inconsistent with the most basic and fundamental set of human rights. And so the whole world has seen it. You can watch the videos; you don’t have to take my word for it. The world knows what’s taking place there, and we’re very hopeful that we can convince the Chinese Government to go in a different direction.
QUESTION: I want to turn now to the impeachment inquiry in the House. You were on that phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This week you said that it was wholly appropriate for President Trump to ask the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden and Hunter Biden. Why?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, that’s not what I said. What I said was I went back to first principles. I talked about the fundamental mission of the United States Department of State – it has been for the entire year and a half as I’ve been the Secretary of State. What I said with respect to what we’ve been trying to accomplish and what President Trump was trying to accomplish on that phone call was that the threat of corruption in Ukraine is long, historic, significant, and real. And so we’ve been focused on taking down the threat from corruption.
We take a fair amount of your money, taxpayer money, and we provide it for security assistance and development assistance inside of Ukraine. And we have not only a right but a duty to make sure that that money gets where it goes and that this government is not corrupt and there aren’t oligarchs funneling off the monies that the U.S. taxpayers are providing.
And so I – that is deeply consistent with what President Trump was trying to do on that phone call. He was asking Ukrainian leadership – who, by the way, has said repeatedly they didn’t feel pressured – he was asking them to do what it is Mr. Zelensky actually campaigned on, which was reducing corruption in Ukraine. And we stand ready to continue to support the Ukraine in that endeavor.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, what evidence would you be able to point to that would show that the vice president did something wrong? Because you have the IMF, the EU, and other international agencies saying they think that this corruption came actually from the prosecutor himself, that he wasn’t prosecuting Ukraine – corrupt Ukrainian politicians, and that was why the pressure was there.
SECRETARY POMPEO: I came to Nashville today to talk about religious freedom. We’ve got – America’s got challenges all across the world. We’ll continue to do the things that we need to do to protect the American people.
QUESTION: Want to talk a little bit about the morale inside the State Department right now. You have former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled in May. It’s being reported now that one of your senior advisors Michael McKinley has resigned. Yesterday, Senate Democrats sent you a letter accusing you of remaining silent and not publicly supporting State Department personnel like Ambassador Yovanovitch. The letter says it’s incumbent on you not to further the President’s damaging and unfounded attacks, but to send a simple message to everyone who works at the Department of State: you have their backs. What is your message to everyone at the Department of State?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have their backs.
QUESTION: Anything more you’d like to add?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I have been consistent for a year and a half. We’ve built morale. By the end of this year, there will be more Foreign Service officers employed, traveling all across the world on behalf of the United States of America, than at any time in American history – any time, couple hundred plus years. I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done. We’ve got a great team. Do our teams make mistakes out there? Of course. But I’ve got a great team focused on a singular mission. And whether it’s our Foreign Service officers or our civil servants, or the political officials that are working in the State Department, we are focused.
And the people of Nashville should know we’re going to keep them safe. We’re working to deliver security for the American people each and every day in 180 countries around the world to make sure that we get it right, we get American foreign policy right. President Trump is focused on that; I’m focused on that. And the great people who work at the United States Department of State are incredibly focused on it as well.
QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, thank you very much for your time today, and enjoy your stay in Nashville.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, sir. I’m sure I will.