Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed President Donald Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating his political rivals as business as usual on Monday.
CNBC’s “Closing Bell” host Wilfred Frost pressed Pompeo on the infamous call between Trump and Zelensky, during which the President pushed Zelensky to open an investigation into Joe Biden and the DNC while the two leaders were discussing military aid to Ukraine.
“Was the Trump-Zelensky call that you heard and the others you heard in fact the norm, not the exception?” Frost asked. “And that people should just accept that and get used to that’s what diplomacy is like today?”
In response, Pompeo described a “foreign leader” who had called him the previous day “seeking to apply pressure to the United States to get us to act in a way that was consistent with what they were trying to do.”
“It’s the nature of politics, of power, of foreign interactions,” said the secretary of state. “Each country trying to act and deliver on–for its own people. That’s what sovereign leaders are hired to do, brought onboard to do.”
When Frost asked if that form of diplomacy had become “the norm these days,” Pompeo insisted that the practice wasn’t new.
“It’s not just these days,” he said. “You can go back thousands of years and watch nation states interact in this very way, trying to achieve outcomes, working together, coming–forming compacts, treaties, agreements, handshakes, working together to achieve each nation’s best interests.”
“Sometimes that means one country will have to give a little more or a little bit less,” Pompeo continued. “This is the nature of nation state interactions. It’s pretty fundamental.”
Pompeo’s defense of Trump’s call strike similar tones to that of acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney, who told reporters last week that holding up aid in exchange for political assistance from foreign governments was perfectly normal (“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said).
However, Pompeo distanced himself from Mulvaney’s comments on Sunday, telling Fox News host Chris Wallace that he “never” saw an indication that the nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was being withheld for political purposes.
“I–I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Pompeo told Wallace.
Watch Pompeo’s interview on CNBC here.