QUESTION: Appreciate your time. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Kyra, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me with you.
QUESTION: Been wanting to do this for a while, and here we are in Ukraine. You are the first U.S. senior official to come here to Ukraine since the impeachment trial began. Is it a different feeling? Is it a different vibe for you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’ve been coming here now for five years. I came here a handful times as a member of Congress on the intelligence committee, and then I was here in my previous role as director of CIA. To watch what’s happened in these last years since the Maidan – the first time I was here was about a month after the Maidan took place, the revolution here in Kyiv. To watch the 44 million people just excel, right – they still have a war going on in the southeast, and yet you’ve got economic growth, you’ve got freedoms that they never had before. There’s still a lot of work to do. They still have many challenges here in Ukraine, but it is – does feel different. It feels like this is a place now firmly planted with our ideals of freedom and democracy, and they’re intent on ensuring they get it for every one of their people. It’s really pretty special to watch this story over the last five years.
QUESTION: We heard President Zelenskyy today say he would come to Washington tomorrow. Did you give him a formal invitation?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m here today. We’re working on many things alongside them. When the time is right – they’re both busy people – we’ll find a right opportunity for he and the President to meet. You’ll recall they met in New York in January – or excuse me, in September. I’m sure they’ll run into each other again someplace. We’ll find the right time for him to come to Washington or the President to come here.
These are two leaders who are on a mission together to fight against the challenges that are here in Ukraine and set this country on a great direction. It’s important for America, right – this is the hinge of freedom. It sits right on the edge between Russia and Europe. It’s really important that we get this right and that we help the Ukrainian people get what it is they want.
QUESTION: Well, you say it’s important for America; you also know, as policy is what you talk about – that’s what’s important to you – and you’ve made it very clear that supporting the Ukrainians is essential for their survival to fight the Russians. So why not make that meeting happen right now? Isn’t time of the essence?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, we’ll get it right. I mean, meetings aren’t valuable just of themselves, right – the theater of diplomacy is much less important than actually digging in and doing the right things. If you look at the things this administration has done here, it’s remarkable to see the switch between this administration and the previous one. The previous one sent MREs and sleeping bags. We sent them things they could actually defend themselves with. We’ve been very helpful in helping them figure out how to get their judiciary right. There’s still work to do, but we’re committed to that. We’ve provided lots of resources – not just money, but our time and our talents. My team here at the State Department’s working hard. Those are the things that will deliver for the Ukrainian people. When the time is right, the two leaders will figure it out and they’ll get together. It may be in Washington, it may be here in Kyiv. It could be someplace else.
QUESTION: Why isn’t the time right right now? What’s the President waiting for?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Still got work to do. We’ll get the time right.
QUESTION: Did you ask him how the investigation is going into corruption? Did you talk about Burisma?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We talked about all the things that he needs to do to deliver on the commitments that he made during his campaign. You remember this was a hard cut – fought campaign. There were lots of – it wasn’t too different than American elections often are. President Zelenskyy said he was going to do just a couple things. He was going to get their economy going, he was going to reform their government so that it served the people, and he was going to deliver on an effort to get peace and reconciliation in the southeast. He’s working hard on those. We talked about each of those. We didn’t get involved in the noise in Washington, D.C. We were focused on the future and the path forward for Ukraine and for the relationship between America and Ukraine.
QUESTION: You didn’t talk about Burisma?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We talked about all the things that matter. We didn’t talk about all the silliness that’s going on back there in Washington.
QUESTION: Did you talk about the Bidens?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We didn’t – we just – we were looking forward – talk about any of that.
QUESTION: Did you talk about the impeachment trial?
SECRETARY POMPEO: It came up once. I think it was a result of a question just like the one you asked. We – when reporters ask questions, you do your best to respond to them. But for President Zelenskyy and I, the focus today was very different from that. There’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve got American businesses who want to come here and invest. We’ve got to make sure they have the opportunity to do that. There still remains the challenge that China’s coming here, doing things that aren’t useful for the Ukrainian people. We talked about those things, the thing – things that really matter to the American people and the people of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Well, I think there’s some things definitely to set straight with regard to you and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. As you know, this book that he has written, we have now read apparently excerpts from this book. It’s causing a lot of headlines back home. Bolton wrote that the President told him that he wanted to continue withholding military aid to Ukraine until they helped with investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens. Did you know about that, yes or no?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, so you’re now commenting on reports on an alleged book about notes that someone claims to have seen. We’re off in the lands of the hypothetical. I don’t engage in that. I’ve said everything I have to say about what took place. The President was very clear with me. He gave me guidance on what he wanted our policy with respect to Ukraine to be, how we were going to deliver that, the boundaries. He expressed real concerns to me about the risk of corruption here, talked about it often. I talked today in my remarks about the fact that we need Europe to do more, we need the French to do more, we need the Germans to do more. This is on their doorstep. Those were the things the President focused on when he talked to me. I recall those very crisply, very clearly. When we were talking about, hey, does it make sense to continue to provide this assistance to Ukraine, he had valid concerns about how we were going to do it and how we were going to make sure to protect America if we did do it.
QUESTION: Point made, but have you ever known John Bolton to be not truthful?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There were times that we always had to work through things to make sure we had it accurate as between us.
QUESTION: Do you think this book is just a bunch of lies because he has a chip on his shoulder and he didn’t leave the White House on very good terms?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Kyra, I have no idea. We’ll see what it says when it comes out. We’ll read it together.
QUESTION: You didn’t read the manuscript?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I haven’t read the manuscript, and frankly, to be honest with you, I probably won’t read the book either.
QUESTION: Even though he talks about you?
SECRETARY POMPEO: A lot of people talk about me. If I read everything that was written about me, I wouldn’t have time for this wonderful interview with you.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) He writes about – that you and he and Esper went to the Oval. That he told the President, “This is in America’s interest” to not withhold aid. He said that Esper said, “This defense relationship, we have gotten some really good benefits from it” – notably military equipment manufactured in the U.S. Trump replied, “Ukraine is a corrupt country. We are pissing away our money.” Is that how you remember that meeting?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Unlike others, I don’t talk about conversations I had with the President. But there were many meetings. I’ll – we know this very clearly, right. I was an advocate for continuing to support what I was doing right here in Ukraine today. I continue to think that there’s good value for what we’re doing here in Ukraine.
QUESTION: You wanted the aid to get here.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Absolutely. I very much did.
QUESTION: Why? Why was it so important to you at that time? Why did you fight for that and go to the President and say, we’ve got to get that aid to Ukraine?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Kyra, it’s the same reasons I just described to you in the beginning of our interview. This is important to the United States of America. We have challenges here to freedom. We want to make sure democracy flourishes here. It’s on the edge of the European opportunity, and now this country is firmly anchored in the West. And if we get it right, it’ll be so for decades and for generations.
I had the chance to go to Ukraine’s equivalent of Walter Reed today to see these young men who were sitting in a hospital, who’d been injured in this war that continues. One of the young men gave me their patch, their – it looked like an airborne patch. We have to remember that they are continued to be engaged in a struggle, and we have this opportunity to help them. We should demand that other countries help them as well. If we get this right, we will set a course for another democracy in the world, and that’s always good. It’s good for American businesses, it’s good for the freedom ideals that we attempt to project all around the world.
QUESTION: So when you went to the Oval and you talked to the President about the importance of not withholding aid – you like to talk policy, this is your thing. So why was it so important at that time to release the aid and get it here? What would’ve happened if that aid wouldn’t have gotten here, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I’m not sure I – the sense of urgency you’re implying. We talked about lots of policy things every time I went in there. This would have been one of the items that we were speaking about. Sometimes it’s as – isolation, as if we worked for years on this project. This is a President that had approved his assistance not once, not twice, but now three times. I’m confident we’ll do so again in the year ahead of us. This President’s had a consistent policy that said we’re going to get this right, we’re going to be part of a coalition. Let’s make sure that the resources get to the right place, that it’s not skimmed, that it doesn’t end up in some black hole of corruption. Let’s make sure we get it to the right place, and let’s make sure there’s others participating as well. It can’t just be it’s America’s engaged in this project. It’s what – every time this topic came up, it’s what I stressed to the President we were going to deliver for him.
And now we have the task of doing it. We’ve approved this financial assistance. We need to make sure – my team here needs to make sure that we get it done right, and we deliver on the concerns the President had, and we don’t allow those things to happen.
QUESTION: And I just want to make sure you did not hear those words come from the President’s mouth, “We’re withholding that aid until I get my investigations into the Bidens.”
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t talk about conversations with the President. I’m telling you what our policy was, from the beginning and throughout. And it remains today.
QUESTION: You bring up a good point, and I think it’s confusing for a lot of people – there were two policies. There is definitely the policy that you talk about, the policy you had publicly endorsed through regular State Department channels. Then there was this second policy, this shadow policy, Rudy Giuliani, this irregular channel. Did you ever know about that policy?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m not sure you’re describing this correctly.
QUESTION: How would you describe it?
SECRETARY POMPEO: My conversations – every time we would talk about this, not just with the President but with other members of the government, those of us who were tasked with delivering not only on our policy here in Ukraine but our policy with respect to Europe and NATO – these are all deeply tied together – there’s 44 million people trying to – needing to make sure that we get this right. We were consistently talking about these important things. There’s always lots of noise. There are always lots of people out running around. My task is to keep my team focused and to deliver against the policy set that the President’s laid out that sits inside America’s National Security Strategy to deliver safety and security for the American people.
I am confident that that’s what we did. I’m proud of the work we’ve done here in Ukraine, more broadly in Europe, to keep American people safe.
QUESTION: So you didn’t feel distracted by a second policy, a shadow policy, an irregular channel?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Not for a moment.
QUESTION: And I’m going to move on, but very important to ask you this. Bolton also writes that you – and I’m asking you because he mentions you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: According to the reporting that you think you’ve seen, yes, I understand. I just – we have to be – you’re talking to the American people. It’s clear that they understand precisely what it is that we know at this point.
QUESTION: And the American people, they want to hear from you, and that’s why we’re sitting here talking about this. It’s —
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I understand.
QUESTION: It’s important. And I know you’re going to be transparent when I ask you about this specifically, because he acknowledged that you privately went to him and said there was no basis to the claims that Giuliani had been making about Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Do you have any evidence that she did anything wrong in her job, sir?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The President has the right to have a full team that he has trust and confidence in, every one of us. I may not be the Secretary of State by the time this interview ends, right? The President has every right to say, “Now, this is the team I want to put on the field.” He can get rid of me for any reason, for every reason, for no reason. He has every right to have the entire team – now, I trust that. I’d have no risk that that person’s not engaged in executing the policy that I want, that the American people elected me the President of the United States to achieve. And so he said to me, “Hey, I think it’s time to develop another path forward,” and we delivered that for him.
I don’t talk about HR matters. I don’t talk about internal policy.
QUESTION: And I —
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s just something I’m not going to do. It wouldn’t be fair to any member of my team.
QUESTION: So let me ask – let me ask you this. I know you’ve been criticized for not apologizing to Yovanovitch, okay. You’ve been asked that a number of times. I’m not going to ask you that, okay, but —
MS ORTAGUS: Kyra, we’re (inaudible) minutes over.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, you’re welcome to ask again.
QUESTION: Well —
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re welcome to ask again, sure.
QUESTION: Are you feeling moral tension?
SECRETARY POMPEO: No. We delivered for the President of the United States on a Ukraine policy that will benefit the American people I hope for years and years to come.
MS ORTAGUS: We’re over, sorry. We’re three and a half minutes over.
QUESTION: Three and a half minutes over?
MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.
QUESTION: And any regrets on the NPR interview and how you handled that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The interview was one of a long course of interviews I’ve had with National Public Radio. They have consistently, with respect to Islamic Republic of Iran, favored the team that doesn’t represent what I believe the American people need and deserve. So I’ve consistently defended what our policy’s been, and I think our policy’s been very successful.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay.
QUESTION: You know thousands of people have died in Ukraine.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay, sorry, sorry. (Inaudible) we’ve got to —
QUESTION: The policy, final policy question.
MS ORTAGUS: We’re four minutes over now.
QUESTION: Final policy question.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: You met with the wounded today. You mentioned that. A fellow captain, he gave you his patch.
SECRETARY POMPEO: He did.
QUESTION: You’re West Point. You’re a warrior, leave no man behind, leave no woman behind. Fourteen thousand Ukrainians that we know of so far have died in the fight against Russia. What did you tell President Zelenskyy today about what the U.S. is prepared to do to get the Russians out of their country?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we talked about all the range of tools that the Ukrainian people have and the things that they need to do, and then we talked about the scope of what America had the capacity to help them with. Some of them are sanctions, some of them are the assistance that we provide. It’s not just financial assistance. We provide technical assistance, moral courage, and clarity with respect to the problem set. And then we have also the task of ensuring that other countries join as well, and so we can help President Zelenskyy round up other nations to help in that fight for freedom as well.
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. That’s it, sorry. We’re late for our —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good? All right, thank you.
QUESTION: Appreciate it. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.