In perhaps the most revealing exchange of the hearing, the Democrat Chris Murphy pressed Pompeo about Trump’s tweet earlier this week stating that Russian meddling in the 2016 election was “a big hoax,” notwithstanding the prepared remarks he had delivered just days earlier admitting that it was not a hoax. “We focus on words from the president because our allies and our adversaries listen to those words and they calibrate their actions based upon those words,” Murphy said. “Why shouldn’t we accept this most recent statement from the president as U.S. policy?”
Pompeo pointed to several times in the past in which Trump had acknowledged Russia’s intervention in the U.S. presidential race, explaining, “I am laying out for you American policy.”
Murphy then asked whether Trump’s comments to Carlson about the folly of coming to Montenegro’s defense were also U.S. policy. “I know you are going to tell me today that the official policy of the United States is to defend Montenegro and our NATO allies,” Murphy noted, but Trump’s statements may send a signal to Putin that a “hybrid … disguised attack” against NATO’s newest member wouldn’t invite U.S. retaliation.
“Senator, the policies are themselves statements,” Pompeo responded. “Indeed, they’re the most important statements that the administration makes.”
“Policies are statements and statements are policies,” Murphy shot back.
“No, that’s not true,” Pompeo said. “I make lots of statements” that don’t become U.S. policy. While the president “says things” and “makes comments in certain places,” he explained, the administration has a formal process for developing and implementing policies.
“How do I know the difference between a presidential statement that is not a policy and a statement that is?” Murphy inquired.
The question was never really answered.
By the end of the hearing, Pompeo was backtracking from the distinction he’d drawn between the president’s remarks and U.S. policy.
“I misspoke,” Pompeo told the senators. The president’s “statements are in fact policy. It’s the case that when all of us speak in informal settings in response to questions, we’re not covering the full gamut of things that impact the world. That’s what I intended to say … This president runs this government.”
A cabinet of conspicuous corruption
That same day, after news broke of Pompeo’s declaration that the U.S. government would never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russia’s Foreign Ministry agreed with Pompeo that it was ultimately Donald Trump who was in charge. Staying in the Paris climate-change accord and Iran nuclear deal were also once U.S. policies, the ministry’s spokeswoman observed, but Trump “decided in a different way.”