Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo excoriated President Biden for his handling of the spy balloon issue on Monday, telling The Hill in an exclusive interview that the current administration “made an enormous mistake” that caused “global shame.”
Pompeo also strongly denied that he or any member of former President Trump’s administration, to the best of his knowledge, was aware of spy balloons entering U.S. airspace during their time in power.
Pompeo’s harshest criticism was reserved for the Biden administration’s actions in relation to the first of four objects that have been shot down since Feb. 4. That device is the only one so far confirmed as a Chinese spy balloon.
A U.S. jet took down the balloon, estimated at the size of about three buses, off the coast of South Carolina after it had traversed the United States for several days.
The delay infuriated Pompeo.
“I don’t know what it collected … I don’t know what signals intelligence it may have had. I don’t know what imagery it may have been able to garner,” he said in an on-camera interview with The Hill promoting his memoir, “Never Give an Inch.”
“The whole world saw a slow-moving balloon transiting Montana, Kansas, South Carolina — and the United States of America did nothing,” he added.
This lack of action delivered “an enormous geopolitical advantage” for China, Pompeo contended. “I can’t imagine that the risk of some falling debris over a place like Montana exceeded the risk of global shame.”
At a Feb. 4 Pentagon briefing, an unnamed senior Defense official said that Chinese spy balloons had “transited the continental United States briefly at least three times during the prior administration.” The implication appeared to be that those who served Trump had done nothing.
It now appears that there was in fact no contemporaneous awareness and that the flights — if they happened at all — were discovered only in retrospect.
In the latest twist, the National Security Council’s John Kirby claimed during Monday’s White House media briefing that the Trump administration had failed to “detect” the Chinese spy balloon program.
“We detected it. We tracked it,” Kirby said.
Kirby’s remarks came a few hours after Pompeo spoke with The Hill. But the former secretary of State, who holds a dim view of a Washington media that he believes skews liberal, is rankled by reporting on the topic.
“You’re bringing it up too, and this is exactly what the Biden administration wants you talking about: ‘Look over here. See this shiny object. Trump, Trump, Trump.’ Right? This wasn’t remotely the same thing. … As best as I can tell, no one was aware. And this is fundamentally different from what has transpired over the past two weeks,” he said.
Pompeo served as CIA director from the earliest days of the Trump administration until April 2018. He then replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of State, where he remained for the rest of Trump’s term. Pompeo is the only person in history to have served in both offices.
“Never Give an Inch” mounts a pugilistic defense of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Pompeo argues in essence that a nationalistic “America First” agenda served as a deterrent to adversaries including China, a source of reassurance to allies such as Israel and an affirmation of American power.
Pompeo also portrays himself and his boss as battling against entrenched interests in government, at the State Department and within a Beltway establishment.
Pompeo does not himself use the term “deep state,” but what he describes is similar in concept.
“Call it what you will,” Pompeo told The Hill. “The State Department is a blob. It’s the Washington establishment. It is a drag on change.”
“I lived it,” he continues. “They were leaking memos on me before they got to my desk. They were undermining direct orders that I had provided to them.”
Pompeo, two years out of power, is back in the news as speculation builds that he could join the 2024 presidential race.
He is open about the fact that he is considering such a move, mulling it with his wife, Susan. But he insists no decision has been made.
If he goes forward, he added, “We’ll go make arguments. It’s not about tweets. It’s not about noise. It’s not about ‘owning the libs.’ It’s about presenting a rational argument about how to get our government to function.”
Pompeo’s book is almost entirely complimentary of Trump, which begs the question as to how he would distinguish himself from the 45th president, who has already declared his 2024 candidacy.
“I approached my public service in a way that’s different from his. I try my best to use language that reflects the greatness of our country,” he told The Hill. “I think that’s important.”
He also notes in passing that the Trump administration “spent an awful lot of money. We’re now $31 trillion in debt.”
But his criticisms of Trump remain mild. And the most heated moments of his interview with The Hill concerned the near-total absence of any mention of the Capitol insurrection in his book’s 400-plus pages.
If Pompeo is largely loyal toward Trump, he is far more critical of former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Haley is all but certain to announce her presidential candidacy at an event in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday.
Pompeo claims in his book that Haley was at one point seeking to displace then-Vice President Mike Pence — a claim Haley has called “lies and gossip.”
Pompeo also resents Haley’s relatively speedy departure from the job to which Trump had nominated her. She announced her intention to resign in October 2018, less than halfway into Trump’s term.
“Some came in, punched their ticket and went on. And for those who made that decision, I just don’t have any time,” Pompeo told The Hill. “I don’t understand how someone who believes that they have this incredible opportunity, in an important role, says, ‘No, thanks. I don’t want to do that anymore.’ ”
Pompeo has a sizable mountain to climb if he enters the presidential race. He is for the moment an also-ran in polls of a hypothetical GOP field that is led by Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Asked whether it sounds like he is leaning toward a run, Pompeo demurred.
“No, there’s no lean. I don’t mean that to be clever. It’s kind of binary. It’s a zero or one,” he said.
“Never Give an Inch” by Mike Pompeo is out now, published by Broadside Books, an imprint of HarperCollins.