(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave short shrift Sunday to a former deputy secretary of state’s criticism of his handling of the controversy over President Trump’s Ukraine dealings, saying Bill Burns was evidently eyeing a position in a future Democratic administration.
Pompeo was grilled during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” about his and the State Department’s role in the episode that is driving the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry – allegations that Trump withheld aid from Ukraine in a bid to compel Kiev to investigate a political rival, 2020 presidential candidate and former vice president, Joe Biden.
Among other things, host George Stephanopolous raised the issue of former U.S. ambassador in Kiev, Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled last May, prior to the end of her tour.
In a July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump and Zelensky both referred critically to Yovanovitch, according to a memo released by the White House.
Trump called the career diplomat “bad news”,” and Zelensky agreed, describing her as a supporter of the former President Petro Poroshenko, whom Zelensky defeated in an election last spring.
Stephanopolous noted that Pompeo has come under fire for not speaking publicly in support of Yovanovitch – who remains a State Department employee and gave behind-closed-doors testimony to three House committees on October 11.
Specifically, he quoted Burns, a respected career diplomat who held ambassadorial and senior State Department posts in the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations, as being scathingly critical of Pompeo.
In a recent article for Foreign Affairs magazine, Burns wrote that Pompeo had apparently “allowed specious opposition research about Yovanovitch to circulate around the department and sat on his hands as Trump slandered Yovanovitch” during the July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
Stephanopolous noted that Burns had alluded to the McCarthy era, and invited Pompeo to respond.
“That’s crazy,” he replied. “I think Bill Burns must be auditioning to be Elizabeth Warren’s secretary of state.
“I mean, people have opinions, George. Everyone’s entitled to theirs. Bill Burns is clearly looking for a spot in the next administration. That’s fine. He’s entitled to that view.”
Pompeo said that “a number of Foreign Service officers” have walked into his office to tell him “how much they appreciate the way we’re handling this process.”
Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. During the 2016 election campaign he was assumed to be a likely pick as secretary of state in a Hillary Clinton administration, had she won.
Sen. Warren (D-Mass.) is running for the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination. She and Biden are faring best in a still-crowded field of hopefuls, polls indicate.
Pompeo pushed back on charges that he does not defend officials in his department.
“I see these stories about morale being low,” he said. “I see things precisely the opposite. I see motivated officers.”
“I’ve watched them perform in difficult situations during my year and a half as secretary of state. I am incredibly proud of the work that they have done, and I will always defend them when it’s appropriate.”
Three minutes later, Pompeo then did defend his officials, when he indicated that he did not share the opinion of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney about the motivation of officials who have given testimony in the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Stephanopolous quoted Mulvaney as describing those testifying as “a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what? I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt that they’re undertaking on the Hill.’”
“Is that how you view those who are testifying?” Stephanopolous asked.
“No,” said Pompeo. “I have a different view. My view is that each of us has a solemn responsibility to defend the Constitution and to speak the truth. I said this the other day. I hope those officers who go to Capitol Hill will speak truthfully, that they’ll speak completely.”
He took the opportunity again to criticize the process being pursued by the House Democratic leadership, calling it “unfair in the nth degree.”
‘We’ve got officers going up there to testify about important security-related matters without a State Department lawyer in the room, and then we’re not being prepared to – being allowed to know what it says,” he said.
“We’re not able to protect the State Department. We’re not able to protect the United States of America. And [House Intelligence Committee chairman] Adam Schiff ought to be embarrassed by the kangaroo court that he’s running.”
Present or former State Department officials who have testified thus far include Yovanovitch, former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European affairs George Kent, former senior advisor to Pompeo Michael McKinley, and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. U.S. charge d’affaires in Kyiv Bill Taylor is expected to testify this week.
Earlier, Pompeo accused House Democrats of bullying departmental officials; they accused him of impeding the inquiry.