Read the full transcript of CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s exclusive interview Saturday morning with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
POMPEO: Wolf, it’s great to be with you.
BLITZER: Let’s talk about the late President George H.W. Bush. How do you see his legacy?
POMPEO: It’s a remarkable American legacy. The don’t make them like that very often. I had a chance to get to know him when I was a member of Congress first, then I held a job that he held at one point, and I remember talking to him just after I was nominated to CIA director. He said, “You’ll be great. You’ll be awesome.” In fact, it was the second best job I ever had, and he loved that group of people, that talented espionage agency so much. America is worst off today, and I want to extend mine and Susan’s heartfelt sympathy to the entire Bush family.
BLITZER: What lessons can politicians today learn from the life he lived?
POMPEO: It was a true life of service. He was also committed to his faith, and he was one to work really hard. Maybe those would be the three things, that if you work at it, keep your faith, and keep a commitment to serve, good things can happen. Not only to him, he had a remarkable life, but you’ll do good work for your fellow man as well. President Bush certainly did that.
BLITZER: He was an amazing man, and I was blessed myself to have interviewed him on several occasions. I know if he were here he would want us to get substantive issues. So, in his memory …
POMPEO: Yes sir.
BLITZER: Let’s talk about some of the major national security issues facing the US right now: Saudi Arabia. Do you believe that the Saudi explanation that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, did not know about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
POMPEO: Wolf, I’ve spoken about this a lot. I continue to work on this issue. President Trump and this administration sanctioned 17 people that we came to learn were connected to the murder — the heinous murder — of Jamal Khashoggi. All across the United States government we continue to investigate, to try and learn to make determinations about what happened. I will continue to hold those responsible accountable. I have been very, very clear about that since literally since the very beginning. We also, Wolf — and this is very important — are doing everything we can to make sure that we get it right from the beginning for America, that we keep the strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and protect the American people. Those two things can both be done, and we’ve done that very effectively.
BLITZER: Because you have said, and you’re a former CIA director so you understand how US intelligence analysis works. You’ve said that there is no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to directing the order of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Can you confidently tell his four children that he was not connected involved in that order?
POMPEO: We’re obviously sitting in an unclassified setting, here’s what I can say. I have read every piece of intelligence that’s in the possession of the United States government. And when it is done, when you complete that analysis, there’s no direct evidence linking him to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That is a accurate statement, it is an important statement, and it is a statement that we are making publicly today.
BLITZER: Did the CIA conclude with high confidence that he was involved?
POMPEO: I can’t comment on intelligence matters … CIA conclusions. I didn’t do it when I was director, I’m not going to do it now.
BLITZER: Because you’ve seen all the reports in the media about that?
POMPEO: Seen a lot of reports in the media, Wolf. They often are untrue.
BLITZER: So, the bottom line is that the US is going to continue to maintain the same relationships, strategic cooperation’s, with Saudi Arabia right now irrespective of what may have happened?
POMPEO: Today, we’re working with the Saudis in Afghanistan. We’re working with the Saudis to push back against the Ayatollah Khamenei who killed hundreds of Americans, Wolf. They’re an enormous support to us. They are a relationship that has mattered for 70 years across Republican and Democrat administrations alike. And remain an important relationship. We’re aiming to keep that relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
BLITZER: Because, you’re losing support in Congress, even including among Republicans right now to continue US support for the Saudi operations in Yemen. Even Lindsey Graham voted against your position with 14 Republicans, senators who voted against you the other day in the Senate.
POMPEO: Secretary Mattis and I, and the President, have made very clear we’re working to end the hostilities in Yemen. The humanitarian crisis there of epic proportions. Millions of people at or near starvation. This administration has put almost a billion dollars into stopping that humanitarian crisis. The Saudis have put even more money in of theirs. The Iranians, Wolf, have put zero dollars into stopping that humanitarian crisis. We are determined to fix the problem of the humanitarian crisis while ensuring that we don’t end up with a Hezbollah organization on the southern edge of Saudi Arabia.
BLITZER: So US military support for the Saudis in Yemen will continue?
POMPEO: The program that we’re involved in today we intend to continue.
[08:02:52] BLITZER: Let’s talk about Russia, another critical issue. Why did the President decide to cancel what was supposed to be a two-hour face to face meeting with the Russian leader?
POMPEO: I can actually answer that. I was there. He canceled it because the Russians behaved in a way that’s deeply inconsistent with international law, and is outrageous to have held the Ukrainians that they took in the strike, needs to be changed. The President wanted to send a clear, unambiguous message that we find that kind of …
BLITZER: The Russians have done …
POMPEO: … unacceptable, so he canceled the meeting
BLITZER: The Russians have done other awful things, and the President went ahead in Helsinki and had that long …
POMPEO: But that’s not hours, days before the series of events that unfolded …
BLITZER: But wouldn’t that be a good time for him to?
POMPEO: Hours and Days, Wolf. Hours and days before, the President made the decision that the right thing to do was tell the Russians, return the sailors, return the Ukrainian equipment. It’s theirs. The people need to be returned to their families. He wanted to send an unambiguous message that the Russians needed to change that act.
BLITZER: And it had nothing to do with the announcement that came just an hour earlier before he boarded Air Force One to fly here to Argentina, that Michael Cohen was cooperating with Mueller and all these new and salacious details about a supposed Trump Tower project in Moscow?
POMPEO: Ludicrous. A Washington parlor game.
BLITZER: Well, explain, because …
POMPEO: I was involved in the decision, Wolf.
BLITZER: Were you aboard Air Force One?
POMPEO: I was aboard Air Force One and …
BLITZER: And nobody discussed Michael Cohen?
POMPEO: Wolf, this is the thing that the American people need to understand about Washington, DC. It makes stuff up. That is wholly unfounded. I was involved in the decision-making process. We evaluated with care. We considered the opportunity to speak with them. We considered the message that it would send. President Trump made the decision this was the right approach based on the activity that had taken place in the lead up to the G20 summit.
BLITZER: So, is there going to be an opportunity down the road for the President to meet with Putin?
POMPEO: The President has made clear the conditions for that meeting.
BLITZER: What are the conditions?
POMPEO: We want the sailors returned. We want the ships returned.
BLITZER: And once the Russians do that, there will be a summit?
POMPEO: The President says that he wants to meet, that he wants to have a conversation with President Putin. There are lots of things that we need to find paths forward on together. Lots of places, Americans are at risk. He’s trying to find a way to move forward with Russia and now this jumped in the middle of a time when we could have begun to have a discussion, where we might have made some progress. We regret that, but the Russians caused this meeting to be canceled by their behavior in the Kerch strait.
BLITZER: When is the President going to meet again with the North Korean leader?
POMPEO: I don’t know. I hope that it will happen pretty soon. We are working hard at it. I think it will happen shortly after the first of the year. But, I don’t have any additional information to share with you this morning, Wolf.
BLITZER: What’s the problem right now?
POMPEO: (pause) Well, the progress…
BLITZER: With the North Koreans?
POMPEO: Yes, well, the progress we’ve made has been good.
BLITZER: No, what’s the problem?
POMPEO: Well, the progress we’ve made has been good. We’re not having missiles launched, there haven’t been any nuclear tests, we continue to have conversations about the right next step that is the right substantive next step, not the process next step of meetings. We’re working with partners all across the world. The South Koreans, the Japanese. Remember, Wolf, these are global sanctions put in place by the United Nations Security Council which denied North Korea the capacity to improve their economy. That’s not going to change. Unlike previous administrations that, when it got to a point that became difficult, wrote checks for tens and hundreds of millions of dollars and let the North Koreans off the hook in that sense, we’re determined to fulfill the commitments that were made by Chairman Kim in Singapore and we’re working hard at it.
[08:06:24] BLITZER: A final question on Mexico. Right now, it looks like US-Mexican relationships are improving. Right now, you’re off to Mexico for the inauguration of the new President. And the President, President Trump, signed, together with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, a trade agreement, but there is still a lot of tension along the border. There is a lot of uproar about whether the US should build a new wall, spend all that money. Whatever happened to the President’s commitment for so long during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall?
POMPEO: That wall is going to get built. I have already developed a good relationship with my counterpart, Marcelo Ebrard, the incoming foreign secretary of Mexico. We’ve met a number of times already. I’m unfortunately not going to make the inaugurations taking place today in Mexico, but he’ll travel to Washington in what I guess will be his second day in office, and we’re going to continue to develop this relationship. It’s not just focused on the migration issues that draw all the headlines. There are many economic issues between our two countries, and other commercial … we have transnational criminal organizations that we work on together. It’s a broad set of relationships we’re going to work to help build. The Mexican economy in the southern part of their nation and work with the Northern Triangle countries, too. Those are important elements of what we’re trying to accomplish, and soon-to-be foreign secretary, I guess, within hours, and I are working hard at it.
BLITZER: And Mexico paying for the wall?
POMPEO: We’re going to get the wall built, Wolf.
BLITZER: But, will Mexico pay for it?
POMPEO: Wolf, we’re going to get the wall built.
BLITZER: I’ll leave it on that note.
POMPEO: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, you have a busy schedule ahead of you. Thank you so much for spending some time with us.
POMPEO: Thank you, Wolf. Have a great day.