VIDEO - Sen. Coons asks Pompeo what he would do if Mueller is fired

Yesterday, Sen. Chris Coons of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioned Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo at his nomination hearing.

Coons: Thank you director Pompeo for your willingness to step forward and once again to serve our country: to your family and to you for what has been a long career of public service in the United States military, as an elected official, as Director of the CIA, and now for this position. I appreciated the conversation we had yesterday and the opportunity to follow up on some of the issues we discussed.

And I am optimistic you would follow through in your commitment to fight for the State Department, for USAID, for resources and personnel. I think many of us have heard over the past fifteen months real concerns about management, morale, budget cuts, at the State Department and USAID, and I am optimistic you would fight for those professionals and you would respect their service.

I’m also well aware you have a strong and close relationship with the President, and as we discussed I think a key role for America’s chief diplomat is to advance not just our narrow interests, our security or economic interests, but to also see our values as being a key part of those interests. And I hope that you will both advise the President and on occasion stand up to him. If he is doing things with which you disagree, and that you will ensure that he considers the vital role of diplomacy in responding to the threats we face around the world.

So, let me just follow up if I might for a moment on a line of questioning two of my colleagues pursued. You are a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. I couldn’t get into Harvard, I went to Yale Law School. And as such, I would assume you agree that rule of law is absolutely essential to the values that define our democracy. Is that correct?

Pompeo: Senator, I only spoke publicly six, five, times as CIA director. Each time I spoke I probably I spoke to, and maybe there’s an exception-- but each time I spoke at some length about the importance of the rule of law at the CIA.

How we were a creature of law, and how if we didn’t do that the fundamental failure that that would lead to. I believed it as CIA Director, I’ve believed it all my life, and I’ll believe it as the Secretary of State if I’m confirmed as well, Senator.

Coons: Well, and I think you made a strong statement that if confirmed it would be the seventh time you’d raise your hand and swear an oath to the Constitution. So, let me just go back to a line of questioning. President Trump describes Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation as an attack on what we all stand for.

And he has repeatedly threatened to fire Robert Mueller. He’s threatened the investigation, he’s threatened the Attorney General in his tweets in ways I find troubling. Do you believe Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is an attack on our country and all we stand for?

Pompeo: Senator, I hope you’ll take this the right way. As the Director of the CIA, I have been involved in that investigation. I’ve worked with Senators Burr and Warner and with Congressmen on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

I have been a participant in Special Counsel Mueller’s activity. I think anything I say, with respect, I want to avoid that today, I apologize that I can’t speak more fully than that.

But I hope you’ll respect the fact that everything that I was asked to do in my role as CIA director related to any investigation I’ve done with as much thoroughness, as much depth, and as much alacrity as our organization could achieve.

Coons: I’m convinced that if the President were to fire the Special Counsel, or to interfere with his investigation by firing Rod Rosenstein with the intention to then interfere with and shut down this investigation, that it would put the rule of law genuinely at risk.

If that were the case, and if that happened, would you resign your post as Secretary of State in order to demonstrate that we are a nation of laws, not of men?

Pompeo: Senator, I haven’t given that question any thought. My instincts tell me no. My instincts tell me that my obligation to be America’s senior diplomat will be more important at increased times of political domestic turmoil. We’ve seen this in America before, right?

It wouldn’t be the first time there’s been enormous political turmoil. My recollection of history is that previous Secretaries of State stayed the course, continued to do their work, continued to do the requirements statutory and constitutional that they had. Having not given it a great deal of thought, I’m confident that that’s the path I would take.

Coons: Well, Director Pompeo, I’d urge you to give it some thought. Many of us are giving it some real thought.

And have had to do so for months. And I think it is regrettable that we’re in a place where we’re seriously discussing this rather than diving into the policy questions that face us around the world. But I think there are moments when our values and what we do teaches to the world. And whether the right course is to resign, or to engage and speak out against it, and to counsel against, and to then work to restore the rule of law we could debate.

But I think it’s vital to have as our chief diplomat someone who understands our values as I believe you do, and is willing to fight for them like taking dramatic steps like a resignation in order to signal vigorous disapproval of what the President’s done or might do. Let me move on to another area if I might.

When discussing Saddam Hussein, President Trump has said, and I quote, “He is a bad guy. A really bad guy. But you know what he did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them their rights, they didn’t talk, they were terrorists, it was over.”

And while we could debate whether Saddam Hussein was a good guy or a bad guy, I think it’s important this is another example much like something we discussed, the president of the Philippines and his conduct where challenging an ally, or challenging the historical record on behalf of our rights is important and our values.

So, to what extent do you think that actions that curtail human rights and erode processes like due process and the rule of law by foreign governments actually fuels instability, strengthens terrorist threats. That when we are perceived as being on the side of a quick and violent result, rather than the rule of law and a just result, it actually makes us less safe.

Pompeo: Senator, I think I agree, if I understood the premise of your question correctly I think I agree with it as laid out but I’ll try and repeat it for you and see if I got it right. I agree.

American behavior matters, the way that we behave around the world, our activities, the things we choose to do and not to do matter, they are reflective. I, one of the best memories I’ve had so far as CIA Director is that I was with a partner intelligence service leader who’d been at this a lot longer than I had and we were walking in a dusty place.

And CIA had done great work alongside them, they’d been a great partner for us as well. He turned to me and said, “Do you know the most important thing that America has done for my team? It’s great that you give us some help, it’s great that you teach us some technology, and some tools, the most important thing you’ve done for us is set an example: CIA officers performing professionally, having boundaries, existing under the rule of law, communicating, all the professional behavior that your officers have exhibited has been the most important thing that you’ve done for our organization, you’ve made us better.”

So, to your point, I think that’s an example where put aside the policy or work we did, substantive work we did, it was America’s norms that were had proven truly valuable to this foreign partner. I was incredibly proud to be the director.

Coons: I’m glad to hear that example and hear you repeat our shared commitment to the rule of law as a core American value, but I do think that we are at a time when we are going to have to confront questions about what we are willing to do in order to demonstrate our fealty to the rule of law as a foundational principal of our country. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.