President Donald Trump says he discussed special counsel Mueller’s report with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Trump says Putin described the investigation as “something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse.” (May 3)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a testy exchange with Fox News host Chris Wallace on Sunday about the administration’s response to Russian election interference.
“You are looking at the administration that has been tougher on Russia than any of its predecessors, and yet you continue to be fixated on something that Robert Mueller wrote down,” Pompeo told Wallace during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
Pompeo grew frustrated after Wallace shared a quote from special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report that said Russia “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” Wallace followed the quote with two clips of President Donald Trump answering questions Friday about a recent telephone conversation that he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.S., Russian presidents char: Trump holds call with Putin, attacks Mueller’s Russia probe as a ‘hoax’
In the first clip, Trump implied he agreed with Putin’s assessment that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – which he again referred to as the “Russia hoax” – “started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse.” In the second clip, Trump was asked whether he told Putin not to interfere in the next election. Trump shrugged and said, “we didn’t discuss that.”
‘A mountain gave birth to a mouse’: Putin mocks Mueller investigation, again denies interference
“Why doesn’t the president get tough with Putin about what everyone seems to agree is clear: meddling in 2016 and the threat of meddling in 2020?” Wallace asked Pompeo.
“Chris, this administration has been tougher on Russia than any of its predecessor administrations,” the secretary of state said. “I could go through the list but there’s not time in the show to talk about all the things we’ve done.”
Pompeo cited increased defense spending and the administration’s effort to “make sure that every election is as safe as they can possibly be.” He said the Department of Homeland Security and U.S.intelligence agencies are “all working” to “ensure” that “2020 will continue to be successful.”
“I take your point, because in terms of specific policies the U.S. … ” Wallace responded before Pompeo cut him off.
“So, Chris, I don’t get your point. I’m confused,” he said, before calling Wallace “fixated on something that Robert Mueller wrote down.”
“I’m not fixated about Robert Mueller, I’m fixated on the president’s conversation with Vladimir Putin, and the fact that in a conversation he doesn’t even mention meddling in 2020,” Wallace replied. “And the question I’m asking – I think it’s a legitimate one, a lot of people are asking it, sir – is, ‘Why not?'”
Pompeo explained that as someone who often speaks to foreign leaders, he understands that “sometimes conversations just aren’t long enough to include every issue that might be brought up.”
“But no one should misunderstand from your question today, your viewers should not be misled, this administration has taken seriously the threat of election interference and will continue to do so.”
Before that exchange, Wallace had asked Pompeo about an apparent discrepancy between Trump and Pompeo, as well as national security adviser John Bolton, about Putin’s role in Venezuela’s political and economic crisis.
Bolton said last week that Russia “would love to get effective control of a country in this hemisphere.” And Pompeo said last week that President Nicolas Maduro has been prepared to step down before “the Russians indicated he should stay.”
But on Friday, Trump told reporters that Putin “is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen.” Several commentators compared the discrepancy to the president’s news conference last year with Putin in Helsinki where he appeared to accept the Russian president’s denial of election interference over the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies.
When asked about the president’s comment, Pompeo said Trump “has been very clear on this” and referred to a previous statement from Trump that Russia needs to “get out” of Venezuela.
Wallace asked Pompeo what he plans to tell Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he meets with him in Finland on Monday.
“I’m going to tell him the same thing the president told the world: that every country must get out, including the Russians,” Pompeo said. “We don’t want anyone messing around with Venezuela, because we want them to be an autonomous, independent, sovereign state.”
Wallace referred to their testy exchange later in the interview when he asked Pompeo about comments from North Korean officials who said the secretary of State has a “mean character” and that he should be replaced by someone more “careful and mature.”
“The immaturity thing I’m not so sure about. The rest of it, I’ll let the world decide,” Pompeo said.
“There were some moments in this conversation where I thought ‘mean’ might be correct,” Wallace said with a grin and a chuckle.
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