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Pompeo discusses Trump’s alleged attack on the military as Biden fires back: ‘Who the heck does he think he is?’

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U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo on Friday denied hearing President Donald Trump denigrate American war heroes.

A bombshell story in the Atlantic detailed how Mr. Trump labeled Americans who died in World War 1 as ‘losers’ and ‘sucker’ during a trip to France in 2018.

Written by Jeffrey Goldberg, the story said “When President Donald Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018, he blamed rain for the last-minute decision, saying that “the helicopter couldn’t fly” and that the Secret Service wouldn’t drive him there. Neither claim was true.

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“Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day.

“In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.”

The report triggered a firestorm in the United States and abroad, with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, saying Trump was not fit to be President.

“If what is written in The Atlantic is true, it’s disgusting,” Mr. Biden said in remarks he delivered in Delaware. “And it affirms what most of us believe to be true: that Donald Trump is not fit to do the job of president, to be the commander in chief.”

He added: “Who the heck does he think he is?”

The newspaper quoted several anonymous sources that were corroborated by other journalists covering the armed forces.

In an interview with Hugh Hewitt of The Hugh Hewitt Show, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said he did not hear Trump use those words.

“Those comments – and I have not read the article, but I’ve seen the summaries would talk about him – suggest that he was saying something about soldiers being suckers or losers.  I’ve never heard that; indeed, just the opposite,” Pompeo said.

“I’ve been around him in lots of settings where there were both active duty military, guardsmen, reservists, veterans.  This is a man who has the deepest respect for their service and he always – he always interacted with them in that way.  He enjoys those times; he values those people.”

Pompeo also discussed other issues, including China and the world.

Read the the full interview below.

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo With Hugh Hewitt of The Hugh Hewitt Show

Via Teleconference

QUESTION:  Welcome back, America.  Hugh Hewitt inside the Beltway, joined now by United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.  Mr. Secretary, welcome back.  Always good to talk to you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hugh, good to be on the show.  Hope you’re doing well.

QUESTION:  I am, and you, too.  A story broke last night in The Atlantic authored by Jeffrey Goldberg saying that at the time of a cancelled visit to the American cemetery outside of Paris in 2018, President Trump made disparaging remarks about fallen soldiers buried there.  Now, you were on that trip.  Did you hear any such remark from the President?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Never.

QUESTION:  Have you ever – you’ve been a lot with him, more than —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  (Laughter.)  I have.

QUESTION:  — probably anyone other than the Vice President.  Have you ever heard him say anything like that about the fallen soldiers?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Those comments – and I have not read the article, but I’ve seen the summaries would talk about him – suggest that he was saying something about soldiers being suckers or losers.  I’ve never heard that; indeed, just the opposite.  I’ve been around him in lots of settings where there were both active duty military, guardsmen, reservists, veterans.  This is a man who has the deepest respect for their service and he always – he always interacted with them in that way.  He enjoys those times; he values those people.

QUESTION:  I don’t understand – and I’ll get to China and Iran in just a second – how – what has happened to the media?  They ran a story – and I know Jeffrey Goldberg, fine reporter – with four unnamed sources by people who could say anything, Secretary Pompeo.  What has happened to the media? 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’ll leave that to others.  My observation is that, in now almost 10 years in Washington, Hugh, I’ve watched the deterioration of the standards.  I’ve watched them begin to write things on secondhand information, hearsay from unnamed sources.  It’s most unfortunate, not because of anything that happens to any one of us as individuals, but it doesn’t do service to the American people.

QUESTION:  Now, Mr. Secretary, the last time I saw you was at the Nixon Library talking about China, and it was a historic speech, but – and with – it had fallen about 10 days, the China-Iran deal, and we didn’t talk about that because we didn’t quite yet know it.  I’d like to ask you:  How ominous is that partnership?  And contrast it with the United Aram Emirates-Israeli deal that was put together by you and the President and the entire team, Jared, et cetera.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So it is a stark contrast.  If you watch what’s happening, this is what we – what I talked about when I was in Southern California, that if you look at the Chinese Communist Party today and what General Secretary Xi is doing, you see, whether it is the actions internal to the country, the enormous human rights violations, the way they’re treating the Uyghurs, and even the Mongols of the north and the Tibetans, this is a gross deterioration in basic human rights that General Secretary Xi’s providing for his own people. 

But then externally, I mean, you watch what’s happening between India and China today where the Chinese Communist Party’s moved more soldiers to that border, more forces to that border any time since the early 1960s, causing huge problems for other countries in Southeast Asia and their ability to simply exercise their basic rights inside their own economic zones. 

This is a Chinese Communist Party that is authoritarian and has a deep desire for a hegemonic rule all around the world.  Contrast that with the United Arab Emirates that made a historic decision to recognize Israel and to come to a common understanding about the real threat to the people of the Emirates, which emanates certainly not from the state of Israel but rather from the Islamic Republic of Iran.  These are big global shifts and things President Trump has been leading on for the three and a half years I’ve been part of this administration.

QUESTION:  Now I have to quote The New York Times again to you from today.  Quote:  “Some Pentagon and State Department officials are uncomfortable with the influence that the Emiratis wield within the White House and [the] National Security Council and they [are] unhappy that [the] Emirati military officials received a classified briefing about the F-35 in July.”  What say you, Secretary Pompeo?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  When a paragraph starts with “some officials” in an organization of the scale and size of the Department of Defense or the State Department, I am confident that there are some officials that believe just about everything, Hugh.  The – so are there people who don’t think this is a good idea?  I’m sure that’s true.  They’re wrong; they’re fundamentally wrong.  This is an enormous step forward for the security of people throughout the Middle East, certainly including the people of Israel and the United Arab Emirates. 

And I – it’s worth noting we think this is a strong signal as well to the Palestinians.  It’s time for you to recognize that there is a good outcome here, to enter into conversations with the Israelis, to begin to negotiate to protect your people, to secure rights for your people, and to partner with countries that will make the lives of your citizens better.  That’s ultimately, in the end, what sovereign nations do, is they take decisions that are in the best interests of their people.  I think both Israel and the United Arab Emirates did that last week.

QUESTION:  I – your former colleague in the cabinet, General Mattis, was my guest at the Nixon Library.  He called the Emirates “Little Sparta” in his book and in his remarks.  I can’t believe there are people in the Pentagon that are suspicious of this deal.  I know you know the State Department, but I just can’t believe the Pentagon thinks other than the most highly than they can of the Emirates.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  The senior leadership all across the United States Government has been working on this for a long time, whether it’s the State Department, Department of Defense, the work the White House is doing.  We all have been working towards the President’s vision for peace in the Middle East and we think that this, the outcome that we got between those two countries, is a really good one, and we think there’s more work that will come to fruition yet this year, we hope.  And when it does – I’m very confident of this – all the work that’s been done and all the sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in the Middle East over these past decades will have borne out a good outcome for the American people. 

QUESTION:  Now, when we talk about great power competition, are there really two groups lining up in the Middle East – Syria, Iran, and China opposing the United States, Israel, the Emirates, and eventually Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, the rest? 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, I hope that’s not the case, but it certainly does appear to be trending that way.  Look, we have been working diligently to try to find a path forward for Middle East peace, and now we have a model that is very different than what had been worked on for 40 years.  There’s a deep recognition that it is no longer the – a challenge between the Palestinians and Israel that causes the instability.  There’s a recognition that the challenge comes from the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Hugh, we’re right in the middle of a fight at the United Nations.  The previous administration said after five years the Iranians could purchase weapon systems from the Chinese and the Russians, and they can sell weapon systems, creating wealth for the kleptocrats and the theocrats that run the Islamic Republic of Iran.  On October 18th, absent U.S. action they could do that again.  We’re not going to let that happen. 

And you see – you see the support.  The Gulf states all said, “Yes, America, you’re doing the right thing, head down that path.”  And we saw other countries privately tell us, “Yup, this is the right thing to do.”  And yet the Russians and the Chinese have chosen a different path.  They want to arm the Islamic Republic of Iran, threatening people throughout the Middle East and Europe.

QUESTION:  Let me go back to a couple of China questions.  I’ve never brought up the Galapagos Islands on the show yet until today, but yesterday I read a story that China is now threatening the most environmentally fragile group of islands that I know of.  Ecuadorean officials say 325 vessels are in their exclusive economic zone around the islands, and of those, 274 come from China.  What are they doing?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So you have the facts right.  This is another example – so the Galapagos Islands, not exactly the first island ring around China.  The Galapagos Islands – this is Chinese predatory economic activity, and another significant violation of international law if we have the data set right.  This is another exemplar, whether it’s in Africa and the predatory activities taking place in Africa, they – the Chinese Communist Party model today is to do what has been part of Chinese history for a long time: to create vassal states, tributary states that have to pay tribute to Beijing as the Middle Kingdom. 

This is – there’s a long history of this, it presents enormous risk to the world, and President Trump has recognized this presents real risk to the United States of America.  And in every front, whether it’s diplomatic or economic, the United States is pushing back.  We’re no longer going to take a knee or turn the other cheek.  We’re going to demand that the Chinese Communist Party behave in the same way we demand every other country does.

QUESTION:  Are we going to back up Ecuador in this conflict? 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We’ve been working with them now for months to try and help them find a way through.  No one wants conflict there.  Everyone wants a diplomatic resolution to this, and we have been working alongside them to help them achieve that.

QUESTION:  Okay, Mr. Secretary, China says they’re making great progress on a vaccine.  So does Russia.  How are we going to trust either of these countries and how are we going to trust the WHO when they all – well, the WHO just flubbed it, and China lied about the virus, and Russia, I don’t know how we can trust them on anything.  They’re interfering with the election again.  How can we possibly trust their claims on vaccines?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Hugh, when I spoke in Southern California that day with respect to the Chinese Communist Party I said “distrust but verify.”  I think with respect to the vaccines that are coming out of these countries that’s precisely the right model that we’ll have to use.  The whole world will have to take a good hard look and make sure that we have real scientific data in the same way we demand of anyone that puts forward a vaccine for sale and for distribution.  My confidence level in the WHO is near zero in its capability to act in a science-based way and not a political way. 

And we’ve watched the Russians and the Chinese hurry these vaccines to market in an attempt to make not a medical breakthrough or an epidemiological breakthrough, but a political, diplomatic breakthrough.  That’s not in the best interests of the world.  If we get a vaccine out there that doesn’t work, that is – that could create further devastation, further loss of life.  We saw the Chinese Communist Party cover up the virus that came from their country.  I hope that they don’t take actions that further put this world at risk.

QUESTION:  All right, I want to switch to the International Criminal Court, Secretary Pompeo.  You and I are both lawyers.  The ABA gets you early in law school and they teach you – the ABA are big fans of the ICC, but this week the Trump administration, led by you, said we are not – in fact you’ve sanctioned people.  Would you explain for the Steelers fans in the audience why we do not like the International Criminal Court?  It sounds like a good idea but it’s a really terrible idea.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So this is an organization that is headquartered in The Hague that is a so-called court, but it is politically unaccountable, and more importantly the United States has never agreed to participate in any of its proceedings.  We’ve expressly said we’re not going to be subject to its powers and authorities.  Turns out to matter a lot because the ICC has now begun to investigate our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen, and Marines who served in Afghanistan, asserting that they potentially committed war crimes. 

And so you have an unaccountable political institution, a quasi-judicial institution potentially asserting claims where – you’re – you’ve got kids in the military who could be traveling some place someday and they may well have been part of the Air Force and conducted activities in Afghanistan, and the International Criminal Court could go nab them and say, “We’re bringing you in.”  This is unacceptable.  The United States has opposed this for a long time but we’re the first administration that has actually told the ICC, “Enough.”  And so we’ve begun to directly challenge the ICC’s capacity and authority to put Americans at risk.  We didn’t consent to their authority and we’re not going to permit them to put these kids in a place where a bad outcome could befall them.

QUESTION:  And my last question is about Belarus and Russia.  What do you think is happening in Belarus?  What is the United States position on the fraudulent election there and what should happen next? 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So in Belarus, what’s happening is what’s happening in places like Lebanon and Iraq.  People are standing up and saying, “Hey, we’ve just had enough.”  And so what I think you’re seeing is people demanding that they no longer be treated in the way that communist regimes have treated people for so long.  We’ve made very clear that this election was not a real election.  It was fraudulent; it wasn’t fair.  And we have now begun to work with our EU partners to ensure that the things that these people have gone to the streets for – they’ve sacrificed themselves; many have been put in jail – simply to demand the basic freedoms that every human being is entitled to by nature of their being created in the image of God.  We want that for the Belarusian people and we’re going to achieve it. 

QUESTION:  Final question, Mr. Secretary.  You’ve said both China and Russia are screwing around with our election.  Are any of them quantitatively different?  I mean, is the State Department acting vis-a-vis both of them in the same way?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So they are different; their approaches are different.  There’s no doubt about that.  But they are equally intent on interfering and influencing our election, and our efforts are aimed at the precise modalities that they’re using, trying to push back.  And we’ve made clear to each of them it is unacceptable for them to engage in activities that undermine our democracy. 

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, always good to talk to you.  Thanks for making time.  Safe travels to you. 

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, Hugh.  Have a good day.

QUESTION:  Bye-bye. 

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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