WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is brushing aside results of last week’s presidential election showing that President Donald Trump lost his bid for a second term. Pompeo told reporters with a grin on Tuesday that the “transition” to a second Trump term would be “smooth,” but later said the State Department would be prepared no matter who is president on Inauguration Day.
Tongue-in-cheek or not, Pompeo's remarks implying that Trump might yet be reelected were striking, coming at a tense moment for the nation as Trump refuses to concede to President-elect Joe Biden. Pompeo, America's top diplomat and fourth-in-line for the presidency, spoke even as world leaders have been congratulating the former vice president.
Pompeo, one of Trump’s most loyal Cabinet members, also dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that Trump’s evidence-free claims of fraud could hurt America’s credibility when weighing in on foreign elections.
Pompeo's comments about the transition came in response to a question about whether the State Department was prepared to engage with the Biden team.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo said with a chuckle, before shifting to a more serious tone. “We’re ready. The world is watching what’s taking place here. We’re going to count all the votes. When the process is complete, there will be electors selected. There’s a process, the Constitution lays it out pretty clearly.”
“The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today, and successful with the president who’s in office on January 20th a minute after noon will also be successful," he said.
Later, in an interview with conservative radio host Tony Perkins, Pompeo appeared to seek to clarify his comments.
“Our adversaries should know that we’re ready, we’re continuing to work, we’ll work all the way through January. And then on January 20th, we’ll have a transition, whether it’s to a Trump administration — a second Trump administration as I spoke about today — or to an administration led by former Vice President Biden,” he said.
“The American people understand that our transition will be complete and thorough and that if we spend a few more days validating that we have this process right, ensuring that we’ve protected every American’s lawful right to vote, it’s the right thing to do and we need not worry that there won’t be an adequate time for transition, which was frankly what the question was suggesting,” he added.
In another interview, this one with Fox News, Pompeo warned President-elect Biden's team about potentially inappropriate conversations with foreign leaders. He suggested that some discussions could violate the Logan Act, a 1799 law that bars private American citizens from conducting foreign policy on behalf of the U.S, but has never successfully been prosecuted.
Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn had been accused of violating the act for his transition conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. but was not charged with that offense. Pompeo noted that Biden had spoken with several foreign leaders since Election Day and said those conversations could be looked at even if they were innocuous.
“I’m always worried when people are engaging in activities, speaking with foreign leaders, in a way that represents things, that might be representing things that aren’t true or might be attempting to influence American foreign policy in ways that are inconsistent with what the law requires,” Pompeo said. “You know the Logan Act. I know the Logan Act. I hope that all those folks who are out there having these conversations aren’t violating that law. I’m sure the Department of Justice will be keeping a good eye on that for us.”
In refusing to recognize Biden's victory, Pompeo, a possible 2024 presidential contender, is joining with other leading Republicans who have rallied behind Trump's efforts to fight the election results. That has cast doubt on whether there will be a smooth transition leading up to Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.
Biden later shrugged off Pompeo’s remarks, saying, “There is no evidence of any of the assertions made by the president or Secretary of State Pompeo.”
At least some Democratic members of Congress were not amused, however.
Eliot Engel, the outgoing chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that Pompeo “shouldn’t play along with baseless and dangerous attacks on the legitimacy of last week’s election.”
"The State Department should now begin preparing for President-elect Biden’s transition,” said Engel, who has been a persistent critic of Pompeo's.
Pompeo will leave on Friday for a diplomatic trip to Europe and the Middle East, including France, Turkey, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, where he will meet leaders who have already congratulated Biden on his victory.
In rejecting suggestions that Trump's unsupported allegations of fraud would have an impact on U.S. standing when it comes to commenting on elections in other countries, he said:
“I’m the secretary of state. I’m getting calls from all across the world. These people are watching our election. They understand that we have a legal process. They understand that this takes time."
"We’re in good shape. We’re in good shape,” Pompeo said.
He derided a question from one reporter about how Trump's rejection of the election results would play overseas. In recent weeks, Pompeo and the State Department have expressed concerns about irregularities in elections from Belarus to Ivory Coast and Tanzania.
“That’s ridiculous and you know it’s ridiculous, and you asked it because it’s ridiculous,” Pompeo told the reporter who asked if Trump's stance jeopardized U.S. standing. “You asked a question that is ridiculous. This department cares deeply to make sure that elections around the world are safe and secure and free and fair, and my officers risk their lives to ensure that that happens.”