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Pompeo Draws Scrutiny for Role in the Ukraine Affair

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 25, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The metaphor I used in my April profile of Mike Pompeo for the magazine was of Janus, the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and endings. I saw Pompeo as the gatekeeper between the world and the White House, assuring Trump on one side that his whims were being satisfied and the world on the other that the U.S. still had an ordinary diplomatic corps despite our undiplomatic president. But the more information that emerges about Pompeo’s role in the Ukraine mess, the more it appears that this arrangement was unsustainable. And with Time’s report that Pompeo may soon resign from the administration to run for Senate, it appears the secretary of state has run into the same problem as other top officials before him: Remaining loyal to Trump puts your reputation at risk.

Pompeo had plenty to boast about when I wrote my profile. By all accounts morale at the State Department had rebounded after Rex Tillerson’s disastrous tenure. Talk of a restructuring had subsided and positions were slowly being filled. Pompeo’s line was that State “had its swagger back.” Pompeo seemed well positioned with respect to his political future, too, with his formidable background and his status as the public face of the administration’s endeavors in North Korea, Iran, and China. It seemed possible that he would be able either to exit the administration smoothly and run for Senate in 2020 or to remain a trusted adviser to Trump while looking ahead to 2024.

Now his reputation may be one of the casualties of the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The recall of former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and the subsequent maneuvering by the “back channel” to cajole Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into Burisma and the Bidens appears to have undone the morale boost and caused the resignations of well-regarded department officials such as P. Michael McKinley, Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff and a frequent companion abroad. (“He was one of the few senior officials able to tell Pompeo when he thought the secretary was mistaken, and he was even known to yell back at him,” Carol Morello recently reported.) McKinley said in his deposition that Pompeo’s decision not to permit a statement of support for Yovanovitch rankled several State officials. This morning, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland complained that State has not made available materials that would have helped the inquiry and noted that, throughout the “back channel” efforts, he kept Pompeo in the loop.

If Time has the story right, Pompeo will run for Senate in 2020 after resigning, as has long been rumored. He’d still be the immediate favorite to win the seat were he to declare. If his political future remains intact, though, the impeachment inquiry has nonetheless shown him to be a key, if occasionally reluctant, actor in the sordid Ukraine affair. A new beginning in this head-spinning political environment could be difficult — even for Janus.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since its initial publication.

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