No, Mike Pompeo never plotted to remove the president from power. And if any members of the White House cabinet had hushed conversations about that possibility after Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob paralyzed Congress for an afternoon, the former secretary of state didn’t know about it.
He wouldn’t leave his post early, and he wouldn’t try to push former President Trump from his. That is, at least, according to Pompeo. He says the thought never crossed his mind.
Numerous outlets reported otherwise. Less than a year after the riot, Jon Karl of ABC News wrote that Pompeo and then-Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin discussed invoking the 25th Amendment, the never-used constitutional process by which a vice president and a majority of cabinet officials may remove a president from office. At the time, a Pompeo spokesman denied that claim. Karl made note, however, that “the spokesman declined to put his name to the statement.”
Now, under his own name, Pompeo dismisses the anecdote as nothing more than “wild speculation.” In his forthcoming memoir, he writes that the 25th Amendment stories that rocked Washington “relied entirely on anonymous sources,” which are “always a sign of deceit and misinformation.”
RealClearPolitics has obtained an excerpt of Pompeo’s memoir, “Never Give an Inch,” which is being published as Pompeo explores his own bid for the presidency. The former Republican congressman from Kansas told RCP last September that he would make a final decision “by the end of the year or beginning of the next” and that it would be made regardless of whatever any other Republican decides to do – including his old boss.
Trump has since announced his third presidential campaign, and Pompeo has been more willing to identify mistakes of the previous administration and flaws in the character of the former president. He has said that Trump “lacked the depth” necessary to defend his own foreign policy and criticized him for needlessly bumbling into high-stakes missteps, like the time he stood beside Vladimir Putin and defended the Russian dictator.
The diplomat seems annoyed by Trump and his loyalists’ constant rehashing of old grievances. When Trump claimed during his announcement speech that he was “a victim,” for instance, Pompeo wrote that Republicans “need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward.” A graduate of West Point before entering politics, he added that his party now needs someone who won’t stare “in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood.”
All of this is a change. Pompeo did not publicly second guess Trump while at the State Department or before that when serving as CIA director. He was not one of the cabinet members known to leak to the press, either. In his new book, he writes that those who did “put themselves ahead of the country,” seeking to stave off “exile from the clubby world” of the Washington establishment.
“Memo to John Bolton,” he writes of that former National Security Advisor at the end of one paragraph to make sure there is no misunderstanding, “I’m talking about you.”
Dismissive of the palace intrigue that dominated news coverage of the previous administration, Pompeo also debunks claims that he and Bolton made a “secret pact” to resign if Trump met with the Iranians. Not true, he writes. Reporting that he, Mnuchin, and former White House chief of staff John Kelly all agreed to leave together if one was fired? Baseless, he adds. “I often read much of the press in utter awe of its recklessness,” Pompeo concludes, “but these statements take the cake. I can’t speak for other cabinet members, but I never had any such discussions.”
While Pompeo has his differences with Trump now, he makes clear that he never wanted to head for the exit. “My only regret about the time I put in over four years is that I didn’t have long enough in either role,” he writes of his tenure first at Langley with the CIA and later at Foggy Bottom with State. “My whole life had prepared me for what I did in the administration,” Pompeo adds. “It was a grueling test of endurance, but I loved every second of it.”
There were opportunities for an off ramp. When Kansas Republican Pat Roberts announced he was retiring from the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urged Pompeo to return home and run for the seat. Pompeo writes that he let the Republican leader down easy, agreeing not to deny his interest in public as “a favor to McConnell, giving him time to find another candidate capable of winning.”
“Mike,” he recalls Trump saying after he publicly demurred during a television interview, “are you really thinking about taking that shitty job? You’ll be junior to Mitt Romney and Rand Paul. You have the best job in the world, you’re fourth in line for the presidency, and you work for me!” Pompeo says he assured the president he had no intention of leaving.
The past comings-and-goings of the diplomat continue to be of interest, not just because of his potential White House ambitions, but also because they were at the center of the now disbanded January 6th Committee chaired by former Rep. Liz Cheney. Mnuchin was asked by the committee if he ever discussed removing Trump from office with Pompeo, as Karl and others reported.
“It came up very briefly in our conversation. [Pompeo and I] both believed that the best outcome was a normal transition of power, which was working, and neither one of us contemplated in any serious format the 25th Amendment,” the treasury secretary testified. Mnuchin did admit that he was curious about the constitutional provision: “I Googled it.”
For his part, Pompeo writes that “the only thing true” about the stories that followed is that the two men spoke after Jan. 6. The conversation with Mnuchin, he says, “was about how to finish strong in the two weeks we had left.”
The D.C. Beltway crowd will no doubt read the memoir in light of a potential bid for president, and while daylight has started to grow between Trump and his former diplomat, it is increasingly clear that if or when Pompeo splits with his old boss it will be on his own terms, not the media’s. He writes of “denying the press my scalp,” dismissing journalists who covered him as so many “hyenas.”
During the transition between administrations, and as the previous president contested the election as fraudulent, Pompeo was irked that those reporters kept asking if he’d met with Biden’s nominee to succeed him at the State Department. “So much important work was still going on,” he writes, “and their entire focus was on whether I had held a perfunctory twenty-minute meeting with someone not yet confirmed to anything.” So, one week after Election Day, Pompeo “decided to have a bit of fun.”
During a briefing at the State Department, he recalls facetiously promising “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” He was smiles and summoned “more than a touch of ‘screw you’ in my voice.” The message Pompeo pressed at the end of the Trump administration: that he would not “play the media’s game of trying to drive a wedge between the president and me, even at the end.”