Sources say Mike Pompeo was ‘helpless to stop’ firing of Marie Yovanovitch: report

November 16, 2019

In the wake of Friday’s public impeachment inquiry testimony from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, a number of current and former diplomatic officials are pointing a skeptical finger at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for failing to stop President Donald Trump’s decision to recall her from her post in Kyiv, the Washington Examiner reported.

Yovanovitch served in the role from August of 2016 until May 20, 2019, shortly after she was told to return to Washington.

Pompeo criticized by diplomats

One anonymous source said to be familiar with President Trump’s animus toward Yovanovitch told the Examiner, “There’s no way that Pompeo could go and save her” when Trump sought to reassign her, and added, “That’s just not going to work.”

Steven Pifer, a friend of Yovanovitch who also formerly served as Ambassador to Ukraine, told the Examiner that Pompeo “played it poorly” with respect to Yovanovitch’s dismissal. Pifer said, “He conceded, or was prepared to concede, a huge amount of his foreign policy authority to (Trump’s personal attorney) Rudy Giuliani…this was a situation where I think the ambassadors in the field should be backed up.”

Democrats and Trump critics have routinely criticized the reported “irregular” back-channel diplomatic and investigative efforts in Ukraine that were said to be led by Giuliani, which purportedly involved his spreading around “false” narratives about Yovanovitch while in pursuit of policy goals that didn’t align with those of the career bureaucrats at the State Department.

Cynical motivations alleged

One reason the Examiner‘s sources cited as a possible reason for Pompeo’s “failure” to stop the reassignment of Yovanovich was a desire to avoid the fate of his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who was abruptly dismissed as Secretary of State following a series of public policy disagreements with President Trump.

Michael McKinley, a former Pompeo adviser who has since resigned from the State Department, offered an unflattering assessment of what occurred, reportedly saying during his impeachment deposition, “Good commanders support their troops in moments of crisis.”

There are those who are defending Pompeo’s supposed inaction with regard to Yovanovitch, however, including another friend of the ambassador who previously served in that role in Ukraine himself, John Herbst. He told the Examiner, “If [Pompeo] had been willing to throw his body in front of Masha Yovanovitch…he might have lost his job,” and added, “And that would be unfortunate for those of us who care about Ukraine policy because he does have influence with the president, although not necessarily decisive influence, and his instincts are really good.”

A similar line of thinking came during the testimony of a former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who told Congress that Pompeo was “helpless to stop” Giuliani’s independent diplomacy in Ukraine, and reportedly testified, “I’m sure he could have called Rudy Giuliani, but would Rudy Giuliani have stopped doing what he’s doing because the secretary of state calls him? I’d be surprised.”

Alternative explanation

The Examiner reported that State Department officials initially ignored Trump’s demand that Yovanovitch be recalled and reassigned. The first anonymous source said, “The president had wanted to get rid of her a year before, when he first heard these stories, and nobody acted on it.” He added that Trump had reiterated his demand after being reminded of her continuing presence in Ukraine by Giuliani and others.

Herbst reinforced his defense of Pompeo by suggesting that he had calculated that it was best to just go along with Trump’s wishes in order to keep his own job, rather than be fired like other Cabinet officials, and said, “So if you lose Pompeo too and have a cipher in that position, who’s telling the president that he’s full of crap (gently, of course)?” He continued, “Yeah, Pompeo knew what the game was, and he was trying to either kill it — or, at least to manage it — and he wasn’t succeeding. And he was biding his time.”

While these presumptuous remarks from the former diplomatic officials may be correct, what they are all ignoring is the possibility that Pompeo “failed” to stop the dismissal of Yovanovitch from her post because he actually supported the decision, allowing it to happen because he, unlike others before him, is fully aligned with the president’s foreign policy vision.

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Ben Marquis

Ben Marquis is a staff writer for Conservative Institute.