WASHINGTON – After years of preaching that world leaders must act quickly to voter judgments, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed the opposite message at home.
Pompeo has called for a peaceful change of power and free and fair elections in countless countries, including just this week in Myanmar. However, the secretary is now also suggesting that President-elect Joe Biden’s planned victory in the U.S. elections could be reversed through legal action to give President Donald Trump an additional four years.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo said Tuesday with a grin from the same podium at the State Department where he and others called on others to resign after losing elections.
He added, “The world is watching what happens.”
Pompeo’s suggestion that Biden might not have won has been made by U.S. diplomats, some of whom told NBC News that the claim undermined U.S. efforts to promote democracy, as well as critics who said Pompeo did just that immediately thrown back what he himself had repeatedly condemned abroad.
“Foreign leaders appear to be more respectful of American norms than the Secretary of State,” said Wendy Sherman, a former State Department official who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations.
“It was an outrageous statement,” added Sherman. “It threatens our national security because it undermines our democratic transition.”
Just one day earlier, Pompeo had imposed sanctions on the former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman for “undermining democratic institutions”. And just like Trump’s team complaining about the cessation of voting in several states, Pompeo deplored the “disenfranchisement” of voters in Myanmar and warned the young democracy that the US would “continue to monitor the electoral process closely”.
“We call on all relevant authorities to ensure that the tabulation of votes and the resolution of complaints are carried out in a transparent and credible manner,” said Pompeo.
Former Secretary of State James Glassman, who later founded the George W. Bush Institute, said the United States had won the argument for generations that authoritarian countries like China should be more democratic. He said Pompeo’s undermining of the election results was playing to opponents.
“That’s a pretty strong argument the Chinese can make that you don’t need democracy, it has some really bad results,” said Glassman, who served under Bush but supported Biden that year.
Pompeo softened its earlier claim about Trump’s second term in an interview with Fox News late Tuesday. Instead, he stressed the need to complete the vote count and insist that “whoever is in office on January 20th” has the tools to be successful.
However, his suggestion that the election result was still unclear came as major politicians around the world were already publicly congratulating President-elect Joe Biden on his planned victory.
This puts many of these U.S. allies in an incredibly precarious diplomatic position when Pompeo embarks on a hurricane tour of seven countries on Friday, possibly his final overseas trip before the Biden administration takes office in January.
What will French President Emmanuel Macron, who discussed everything from Covid-19 to African development in a call to Biden on Tuesday, say to Pompeo when he meets with him in Paris, with Pompeo still publicly claiming that he will become Trump stay president next year?
How will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, both of whom have publicly recognized Biden’s victory, answer questions from their own citizens about the legitimacy of the US elections when Pompeo visits their countries next week?
“I’m just saying hello, I suppose that’s not too difficult,” Pompeo said on Fox News when asked about foreign leaders congratulating Biden. “But make no mistake, we each have a president, a foreign minister and a national security team.”
He then added an ominous warning to Biden’s team about the Logan Act, which forbids Americans – like a new president – from conducting their own diplomacy on behalf of the US government.
“I’m sure the Justice Department will keep an eye on this for us,” said Pompeo.
When Trump’s first national security advisor, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, spoke to Russia’s ambassador in the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration, he didn’t just say “hello”. Instead, Flynn advocated how Moscow should respond to the Obama administration’s sanctions on intercepted phone calls. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about these calls.
As Pompeo prepares for his overseas trip, two US officials stationed abroad tell NBC News that there were no clear guidelines for US missions on how to cope with election results.
However, two State Department officials separately said that despite the Trump administration’s refusal to allow cooperation with Biden’s transition, U.S. officials tacitly used return channels with members of Biden’s team in anticipation of the transfer of power in January.
“His statements make it clear that he will use his office to hold the entire agency hostage until he is forced to give up power,” said a State Department official on condition of anonymity over Pompeo’s comments for fear of retaliation. “That’s not how a democracy works. It makes sense why we didn’t receive guidance on how to prepare for the transition. “
Pompeo’s longstanding call for other nations to respect the results of “free and fair elections” fits in perfectly with a central line of US diplomacy: promoting democracy abroad. The State Department has a whole officewith offices and dedicated officials around the world focused on that.
Last year, after a controversial election for Mayor of Istanbul, Pompeo’s spokeswoman insisted that “the acceptance of legitimate election results is essential to any democracy”. And in July, after a protracted battle for the integrity of the Guyana elections, Pompeo appeared on camera and said it was “long over for a peaceful change of power”.
“You should get on with this,” he said.