QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for being with us tonight. We appreciate it.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, thanks for having me on the show.
QUESTION: The news today broke that the Iranians by accident – that’s what they say – downed that commercial airliner the night, of course, they sent their cruise missiles into Iraq against Iraqi military bases. What can you tell us?
SECRETARY POMPEO: There’s an investigation underway. I hope that the Iranians will cooperate with it completely. I hope they’ll make sure that the whole world can know that if there are planes traveling in and out of Iran that they’re safe, and if there’s risk, that the commercial airlines that happen to make decisions about the lives of people who are traveling in and out of Tehran will know the risks. And if the international community needs to shut down that airport, so be it. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it, and it’s important that we get to the bottom of it quickly. I’ve seen the reporting. I can only say that we need to get to the bottom of this very, very quickly.
QUESTION: Well, 60 Canadians on that airliner.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. They —
QUESTION: Horrific – 176 people dead. Given the climate here in Washington, I can foresee down the road some on the left saying this was an accident caused by a provocation of an administration that reacted rashly against Iran. You know that’s coming.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we’ll have to see what’s the ultimate cause of this. It’s possible it’s mechanical failure, but we’ll have to see if, in fact, it’s the case that there was something more insidious than this. The American people should know that this would have been Iranian malfeasance that caused it. And importantly, you identified the Canadians that passed; my condolences to everyone who was on that flight, including the Iranian citizens who were traveling on that plane as well.
QUESTION: Vice President Pence appeared on a few shows today, including Fox and Friends, and he was pressed on the intel briefing that was done on Capitol Hill to key members of Congress about the Iranian situation, and everyone from Mike Lee to Rand Paul, they said it was insulting. Nancy Pelosi said her briefing over the weekend was dismissive and disdainful. What happened, Mr. Secretary, at this briefing that you’d have people like Rand Paul and Lee agreeing, essentially, with Pelosi?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, I got lots of different feedback from the briefing. I was there. I was one of the briefers. I thought we did a dynamite job. I mean that in the truest sense that we did our level best to present them with all the facts that we could in that setting, in a closed setting, more than we can frankly say on your show today.
QUESTION: But Vice President Pence said to reveal more of any – the compelling intel could have compromised sources and methods, Mr. Secretary. Does that mean that the intel briefers in this administration don’t trust Congress with classified information? Because that’s what it sounded like.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, we shared an awful lot with them yesterday. There are things that only certain members of Congress get to hear. It’s by history and tradition and rule, so that’s not uncommon. I don’t think anyone was surprised by that. There was a second issue not directly related with Iran. There are – and I know Senators Lee and Paul care about this a great deal. They want to protect the prerogatives of the Legislative Branch. They have a view of the War Powers Resolution. I think members of Congress get frustrated by this sometimes. And so this wasn’t political in the Republican-Democrat sense; this was Executive-Legislative.
And so I think there are a number of people who are using this as a political ax to grind. I think that’s most unfortunate. There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qasem Soleimani, and we don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real. And we were detailed in that briefing yesterday, we provided them information that I don’t think any reasonable person could say that to have not acted – had the President not made that choice, that we would have been culpably negligent in the recommendations that we made to the President. We saved American lives by taking this action.
QUESTION: Well, the President said Soleimani wanted to blow up the embassy. Is that accurate? He wanted to blow up the embassy.
SECRETARY POMPEO: It was his forces that penetrated our embassy just a handful of days before that – Kata’ib Hizballah warriors orchestrated and directed by Qasem Soleimani himself. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Soleimani had intentions not only to take action against our forces, our diplomats in Iraq, but in other countries around the region and world as well.
QUESTION: John Kerry, your predecessor, also sounding off on this operation saying that America essentially destabilized a situation that had calmed down after the signing of the Iran deal, that there was real verification in place. He also said this. Let’s listen:
“There is no way at all that the world is safer, that the United States is safer, that the region is safer, with the steps this President has taken. The President is so fixated on undoing anything Barack Obama did that he was willing to run the risk of outright war in the effort to fulfill his fantasy.”
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, it’s not about fantasy. It’s a fantasy to think that the nuclear deal was good for the United States of America and protecting the American people. There were terror campaigns, there were missile systems that were enhanced, improved during the JCPOA. The money that the Iranian regime was permitted to have underwrote the very Shia militias that were the ones that took on and ultimately killed an American. We had a lot of work to do to fix this. This isn’t about undoing what Obama did. This is about protecting and defending the American people, and President Trump has been incredibly resolute in that.
QUESTION: Now, President Trump has been successful and was successful running for president on an “America First” campaign. He was going to be kind of the anti-Bush when it came to this policy of regime change and military interventionism. Does what happened over the last week or so change that? Is he now taking a step back and maybe closer to the old Bush days of look, we got to stay in the Middle East, we got to stay engaged? Or are we going to make that final pivot to Asia at any time soon?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, I am confident that what President Trump campaigned on is what he’s delivering for the American people. This is definitely a promise that has been kept. He said he would protect and defend America and we would do so in a way that we didn’t end up in these endless wars, that we would do so in ways that didn’t require the commitment of enormous resources, enormous troops for an endless period of time. We had a real threat. We took it on. We will now do everything we can to make sure that, whether it’s Daesh that wants to come get us, ISIS that wants to come get us here, al-Qaida, we’ll continue to protect and defend. But we are working in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East to make sure that not only do we have fewer Americans there, but we continue to perform what President Trump will never let happen and create risk.
QUESTION: Now, he made —
SECRETARY POMPEO: No, I don’t think this moved at all in that direction.
QUESTION: Okay, because like, I heard people calling you the Paul Wolfowitz, which – and I’ve known you for some time – like you’re the Paul Wolfowitz to – what he was to Iraq, to Iran. So you reject that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I do.
QUESTION: All right. Well, one of the things that’s odd about this, though, is that we have all these people on the left who are – they’re never giving the President any credit for his non-military-interventionist outlook, now jumping all over the President on this score. But where were they in giving him any credit when credit was due?
SECRETARY POMPEO: The American people get this. I’m convinced that they understand that President Trump is going to do this in a way that protects and defends America, but always understands that America should be first. Even in the immediate aftermath of the strikes on the Iraqi bases, the President said look, we’re going to try and hand these duties off to others. We’re going to do what we need to do for the American people, but if there are other nations at risk, they need to share that burden. He talked about NATO taking on an increased role —
QUESTION: And what is that role? Because I heard maybe – NATO said they were going to do more. They agreed after you pressured them.
SECRETARY POMPEO: And they – they did.
QUESTION: They were going to do more. What does that mean?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re working on it. They’re traveling here in the next handful of days. We’ll begin those discussions about what that would look like. But this is to get the burden right. There are tasks that have to be undertaken in the world. There are people who mean us harm. But we can do this and we can do it without enormous American troop presences in all of these places for an endless period of time. I’m convinced that we can accomplish both missions.
QUESTION: House Foreign Affairs said they want you testifying next week on what happened. Will you testify?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I – I’ll have to take a look. I’ve seen the request. We’re trying to figure it out. I’m going to be out of town next week. But I am very confident we’ll continue to keep every member of Congress as informed as they are rightfully permitted to be.
QUESTION: The President made this ultimate call. Reports are that you and Secretary of Defense Esper traveled down to Mar-a-Lago, you briefed the President. But you’ve become the face of this decision. I mean, The New York Times said that you were the – you were the man with – who really pushed the President into making this or convinced him to make this decision. Do you accept that, and all that comes along with that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I take responsibility for what the State Department does and the recommendations that we make to the President of the United States. This was ultimately his decision. But in the briefing yesterday, we made clear to every member of Congress – I can say this publicly – there was enormous consistency across all of the senior leaders and the national security team that ultimately this was the right thing to do and it would keep America safer. And I am happy to own that recommendation.
QUESTION: Here’s some of your friends and their commentary. Listen:
“Pompeo is the guy, and he has the authority and he is an Iran hawk.”
“I mean, if there is a voice of reason – you know, we had high hopes for Pompeo when he first came in. Well, that’s pretty much out the window.”
“I don’t know any Americans aside from maybe Mike Pompeo who truly want to go to war with Iran.”
QUESTION: Reaction to that?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I don’t want to go to war with anyone, nor does the President of the United States, most importantly. We will always do what’s right to make sure that the American people are safe. There was a real opportunity here and there was a real necessity here. We made the right decision. The President made the right call. We’re not through this yet. There are still many challenges that are faced. I’ve got diplomats and officers in difficult places, even as we speak. We will continue to do the things we need to do to make sure that we – we don’t have people where they need to be unnecessarily, but we’ll keep America safe.
QUESTION: Former Obama administration officials were everywhere yesterday. Their heads were exploding about this claim that the money that was transferred over to Iran, billions and billions of dollars, during the Obama term, was used to fund some of these terrorist activities, including the missiles that flew at Iraqi bases. They said that’s just ridiculous. Your response?
SECRETARY POMPEO: One of the central tenets – one of the central tactics of our strategy is to deny the Iranian regime the money to do these kinds of things. We’ve only been at that for about 18 months now, so there is still work to do. But make no mistake about it: The wealth that was created inside of the Islamic Republic of Iran went directly to the IRGC and the senior Iranian terrorists, and that money ultimately ends up in the hands of people who wanted to do Americans harm.
So money’s fungible, it can move around, but they had the resources, they the ability to build out the militias in Syria, to underwrite Hizballah, to build their missile program. All of the things that we are now confronting are a direct result of the resources that the regime had available as a result of that terrible nuclear deal.
QUESTION: And by the way, John Kerry admitted back in 2016 that this could be an eventuality with the money being used, so he already spilled the beans on that a couple years ago.
SECRETARY POMPEO: He knew that risk and it’s now come to fruition.
QUESTION: Because it’s me and I’m talking to you, we have to talk about China, and I know we’re – we only have a limited amount of time. But China came out today and is claiming that their detention camps of Uighur Muslims are part of their successful counter-terror campaign, and they’re protecting religious rights in the process, and anyone who criticizes this – the – these detention centers are doing a disservice to their efforts to counter violent radical extremism. Got a million Muslims in these camps and other ethnic minorities, and they’re set to come here next week to sign this partial trade agreement. Sensitive issues right now, but this is a – this is quite a statement from the Chinese.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, those programs in the west are doing tremendous harm to the Muslims there in Xinjiang. The President talked about it – I think it was at the United Nations – the language that they use is not reflective of what’s really going on. We have many opportunities with China. We have lots of challenges there. I’m confident that the trade deal next week will get done, that phase one deal. We then have to make sure that it’s complied with, that it’s enforced. But as for this idea that somehow the camps in the west are promoting religious freedom, that’s fundamentally untrue.
QUESTION: You’re having so much fun here, Mr. Secretary, you don’t want to join all the fun on Capitol Hill in the Senate any time soon? I’m shocked.
SECRETARY POMPEO: You know, Laura, I’m going to continue to do – I’ve said this for months. Somehow it got renewed push this last week. I’ve said for months, so long as President Trump will permit me to serve as his Secretary of State, that’s what I want to do.
QUESTION: It’s great to talk to you today. Thanks for giving us so much time.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Laura, wonderful to be with you. Yes, ma’am. Thank you.
QUESTION: All right, take care.