Following two meetings — one with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in June and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week — lawmakers want to know just what President Donald Trump agreed to in closed, private meetings with two men who represent major U.S. adversaries.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend those meetings, but bristled when pushed for actual information, and admitted that he had neither spoken to the interpreter present in the Trump-Putin meeting nor seen the notes from that meeting.
“Senator, I understand the game that you’re playing,” Pompeo pushed back when Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) needled him for details.
Menendez also wanted to know what happened at the meeting with Kim, having seen “not a classified briefing, not anything” on what Trump promised. “It seems Kim Jong-un got everything he wanted,” said Menendez, calling the vague agreement the “art of concessions rather than the art of the deal.”
In his opening statement, Pompeo gave what assurances he could without offering much that was new — reaffirming the U.S.’s commitments to sanctions, to the denuclearization of North Korea, and to refusing to recognize Crimea (which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014) as part of the Russian Federation.
He did assure the committee that Trump accepts U.S. intelligence that Russia interferes with the 2016 U.S. elections — something that did not seem to be the case when Trump met with Putin on July 16, when he told the press that he took Putin’s word over that of the FBI.
But none of this addressed the issue at the heart of the hearing: What was the president agreeing to behind closed doors, with none of his advisers present and little — if anything — in writing?
Looking at the Trump administration’s foreign policy, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said they amounted to “ready, fire, aim,” with the White House “waking up and making it up as they go.”
Pompeo offered no details regarding what was agreed upon in the talks with Kim and Putin, in discussions with consequences Corker worried lawmakers “as of yet have little idea.” He also repeated Trump’s talking points on NATO (not paying their “share”) and his own on Iran (which he again outlined in a speech on Sunday night).
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) wanted to know why the administration seemed to compare Iran (which does not have nuclear weapons) with North Korea (which does), and wondered why Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, when the deal isolated Iran and violating the deal in turn isolated the U.S.
He also wondered why the U.S. seemed to be out of the loop on what’s happening with North Korea’s weapons program.
“I’m getting my information now from the South Koreans,” said Cardin.
He got no satisfactory answer on either question from Pompeo, who at several points in the afternoon blamed everything that is wrong on the previous administration.
As the hearing wore on, the discussion at times splashed into the trade wars Trump started and even his bizarre classification of Montenegro as an “aggressive” nation that might draw into World War III by attacking Russia.
Largely, though, senator after senator expressed their alarm over not knowing what happened in the meeting with Putin, as Russian state media continues to report on varying points of agreement.
“I’m not going to get into the private commitments that were made,” Pompeo said in response to a request for details by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on what has been agreed upon with North Korea.
Indeed, Pompeo could not or would not give any details on what, if any tangible progress has been with North Korea. As with the meeting with Russia, the upshot was: While they were made in the name of the American people, the agreements are, for now, private, and maybe, in a more classified setting, details will be shared with lawmakers.
But until then, no one should hold their breath.
When Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) asked in what way North Korea’s denuclearization was “verifiable,” Pompeo replied that Washington and Pyongyang are “sitting at the table, having lots of conversations.” Pompeo never shared any information on how anything North Korea might or might not do is certifiable or verifiable.
Markey also worried that the U.S. is being “taken for a ride,” to which Pompeo replied, “Fear not, senator, fear not.”