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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

For Trump's second secretary of state, there are no great options

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department on Thursday Credit: Getty Images/Mark Wilson

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has dug himself into a unique political trap with no clear way out. 

These days his patron, President Donald Trump, is in a perpetual state of spiteful rage at State Department professionals who testified credibly about his extracurricular moves in Ukraine.

Last year Pompeo replaced the alienated Rex Tillerson as head of the department, where cuts and interference by all public accounts crushed morale.

From time to time you'll hear of Pompeo looking to defend or promote his sprawling operation, to little or no effect. In public appearances, he seems impassive.

On Friday, former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch told the House impeachment committee much of what the public already knows — that she was targeted for removal by Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and members of a Ukraine power faction.

“As Foreign Service professionals are being denigrated and undermined, the institution is also being degraded. This will soon cause real harm, if it hasn’t already,” Yovanovitch said, quite plausibly.

“The State Department is being hollowed out from within at a competitive and complex time on the world stage. This is not a time to undercut our diplomats.”

Insiders have been quoted as saying that for Pompeo to have gone to bat for her would have cost him his job. The secretary replaced her with acting Ambassador William Taylor — who criticized off-payroll Trump efforts to get the new Ukraine president to help him in the 2020 election.

Without a shred of evidence, Trump has called Taylor a "Never Trumper."

Does the president now suspect that the secretary who appointed him is also a hidden mole for his enemies? Or does he believe that, like the president himself, the secretary isn't responsible for what his own hires do?

Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent said earlier this month that "Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations" were "infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine."

Ex-Mayor Giuliani spread "lies and misinformation," he said.

Despite his sheepishness about standing up to his boss, Pompeo hasn't exactly sided with Giuliani's unproven claims regarding Ukraine and U.S. Democrats. 

Pompeo, 55, has his own credentials and ideology to defend. He's a former Republican congressman from Kansas who holds a juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has called on him to run next year for Senate.

But something will no doubt have to give as Trump's careless accusations about other Americans in his own government hinder Pompeo's attempts to lead U.S. diplomacy abroad.

Perhaps if Trump wiggles out of his self-made Ukraine swamp by throwing Giuliani under the bus, Pompeo can weather the storm.

During his year as Trump's CIA director, Pompeo managed to brush off the president's attacks on the agency and survived in that role.

This time the inherent conflict between Trumpism and professional practice is much more difficult to cover over.

For the moment, it is hard to imagine how Pompeo's tenure can end well or come to be regarded as a success by anyone outside the current Trump cult of personality.

But maybe for Pompeo, hanging on and sidestepping the president's latest mood storms will suffice to get him to a more potent place in his career.


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