The new Trump Whisperer, former Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo, returned to his Capitol roots in triumph Wednesday. Sort of.
Secretary of State Pompeo, the lone survivor of President Donald Trump’s Kleenex box of disposable national security officials, was clearly the one in charge when Trump’s team of Cabinet members and generals went to Congress. Their mission was billed as an in-depth, top-secret, cell-phones-forbidden classified briefing for all senators and representatives on the Hows, Whys and Why-Nows of the missile strike that executed Iran’s famous Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
But mainly, Pompeo was in charge of making sure Trump’s latest national security team did no such thing. Mission Accomplished, Mr. Secretary.
Clearly, Pompeo now shares Trump’s view that Congress is by far the least equal of our constitutional government’s three equal branches. It wasn’t always that way. In 2011, Pompeo came to Congress from Wichita as just another loudly partisan Tea Party Republican (albeit one who finished first in his West Point class).
On Wednesday, Trump’s former CIA director and current secretary of state led Team Trump to Congress as Trump’s behind-the-scenes mover, shaker and Oval Office whisperer. More than anyone else, Pompeo powered and steered Trump into ordering the assassination decision that got the world’s attention.
Pompeo kept re-targeting Trump’s easily divertible attention back to the evils personified by Iran’s second most important figure. Soleimani, commander of regional terror forces who was responsible for killing hundreds of U.S. troops, had just made America look pitifully helpless on the world’s news screens. He masterminded the militia members who, posing as Iraqi protesters, stormed and burned their way into the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad.
Trump hated that the world saw America looking helpless during his presidency. Especially he hated that world hadn’t seen America look so bad since the tragedy at Benghazi, when Barack Obama had Trump’s job (and you-know-who had Pompeo’s).
And that gets us to what Trump really first liked about Pompeo. At a 2015 House hearing, then-Rep. Pompeo shamelessly exploited that Benghazi tragedy to bash and ridicule Hillary Clinton, who was then running for president. Don’t get me wrong: Clinton deserved to be lambasted for her infuriating use of her personal emails for official business. But Pompeo tarnished the memory of slain U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens just to ridicule Trump’s eventual opponent.
Pompeo began by asking Clinton if the slain ambassador had “your personal email.” (No.) “Did he have your cell phone number?” (No, but he had the State Department’s 24-hour operations center number.) “Did he have your fax number?” (No.) “Did he have your home address? …Did he ever stop by your house?” (Geez!) That’s probably when Pompeo first captured Trump’s attention.
Fast-forward: During Trump’s presidency, Pompeo reportedly kept pushing the genuine evils of Soleimani at Trump. And when they got word that Iranian general was coming to Bagdad, there was an opportunity for Trump to order a quick lethal strike.
But was there a definite threat that warranted assassination? Congress still doesn’t know. The briefers repeated Trump’s original lines about Soleimani having planned “imminent” attacks against U.S. forces and places. But when members of Congress pressed for verifiable details, Pompeo & Company just turned and left.
Some Republicans were flat-out outraged by the briefers’ refusal to give any reassuring details of why Trump ordered the assassination. Conservative Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, called it “the worst” military briefing he’s ever attended. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., agreed. Other Republicans voiced similar fury, but only privately. Democrats of course, declared their outage openly.
Then it got worse. Thursday morning, Trump publicly went further than his official briefers ever did. Trump told a White House gathering that Soleimani planned to “blow up” the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. That night Trump told a Toledo, Ohio, rally still more: Soleimani also planned attacks at other U.S. embassies and facilities.
Now here’s the shameful worst: Some Republicans have begun declaring that Democrats are mourning Soleimani. It’s not just the usual GOP attack dogs like Rep. Phil Collins of Georgia. Even ex-Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, once widely praised as a conscience of her party, told Fox News: “The only ones that are mourning the loss of Soleimani are our Democrat leadership and our Democrat presidential candidates.”
That’s false. Also a shameless lie. And Haley knows it. So it must signify one of two things: One, Haley wants in the worst way to be Trump’s veep this year. Or, she’s begun her 2024 campaign for president. But whichever it is, the former South Carolina governor is clearly doing it in the worst way.
Nikki Haley can never again regain the decency she just lost.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.