April 12, 2018

Video: Kaine Presses Pompeo On Pro-War Comments, The Iran Deal, And Legality Of Military Action In Syria

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, participated in a confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State. Senator Kaine pressed Pompeo on the need for congressional approval for military action in Syria, Pompeo’s strong opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, and Pompeo’s 2014 comments that the United States should consider bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities instead of prioritizing diplomatic negotiations. In the hearing, Kaine secured a commitment from Pompeo to work with him to release the secret memo that, according to reports, the Trump Administration created detailing the legal basis for airstrikes last April against Syria. For months, Kaine has repeatedly demanded that the Trump Administration release the Syria memo, but he has yet to receive it. 

You can watch video footage of Senator Kaine questioning Pompeo here.

Excerpts of Kaine’s questioning of Pompeo are below:  

Kaine: Those comments, when I heard them, about the relative ease of a war against Iran reminded me of the run up to the Iraq War. Vice President Cheney said we’d be greeted as liberators; the President said there were definitely weapons of mass destruction; Secretary Rumsfeld said the invasion would largely be self-financing and would quote “last five weeks or five months, it certainly is not going to last any longer.” Of course, we know that the cost to the United States was 4400 soldiers dead, 500,000 Iraqis dead, and a price tag now topping $3 trillion dollars, and unprecedented turmoil in the region, and most of those facts were known at the time that you made that statement in 2014.

Let me say this, I’m one of two senators who serve on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees. I represent a state that’s deeply committed to the nation’s – I have a son in the military, I honor your military service, your entire public service. I think my mission on these two committees is sort of two things: dramatically reduce the risk of unnecessary war, raise the probability that we decisively win any war that we need to be in.   

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Kaine: For the past year, I’ve been trying to secure the Administration’s detailed legal justification for last April’s strikes on the Shayrat military base in Syria. The Administration has not fully provided it, and there is reportedly a memo that is laying out a description of what the President or the Administration feels are the appropriate executive powers. Would you support the release of the non-classified portion of that memo to Congress so we can see what the President thinks his powers are and engage in a productive dialogue about that?

Pompeo: Senator, I learned about this memo – I think you shared it with me – I was unaware of that. I promise I will work alongside you to do the best I can to get you that information and if it’s a classified version of it that you have a right as a member of the legislative branch to see, I’ll work to get you that, and if it’s an unclassified version, we’ll work to get you that as well.

A full transcript of the first round of Kaine’s questioning is below:

Kaine: Thank you Mr. Chair, Director Pompeo, congratulations for this nomination. During the negotiation over the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2014, you opposed the deal and you stated, “it’s under 2,000 Sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces. A number of people opposed the deal, but you were somewhat unique in publicly venturing the thought that military action might be preferable to a deal or easier than some folks were suggesting. Where did you get the notion that destroying Iran’s nuclear capacity could be accomplished with 2,000 air sorties?

Pompeo: Senator, it was based on the things that I’d learned as a member of Congress.

Kaine: Your military career and as a member of the House Intel Committee?

Pompeo: Senator, yes, I think that’s right. I’m trying to remember the timing of the statement. I think I would’ve been serving on the Intelligence Committee at that point in time.

Kaine: At the time, did you have any reluctance to share that assessment publicly? That seems like a pretty specific sort of assessment to say, “I’m confident in our capacity,” is one thing, but to publicly discuss that it would be 2,000 sorties to wipe out the Iranian nuclear capacity struck me as odd. Did you have any reluctance to share that at the time?

Pompeo: Senator, I wasn’t –  no classified information was contained in that specific statement.

Kaine: Wouldn’t that sort of specificity probably rely on an awful lot of classified information?

Pompeo: Senator, 2000 was a pretty big rounded number, there was no effort here to make any specificity. It might’ve been 1,000, it might have been 3,000. I wasn’t – there was no aim here to communicate it but to your point –

Kaine: You weren’t trying to be inaccurate in your statement?

Pompeo: No, Senator, absolutely not. I never try to do that. But if I might, and we may disagree about this Senator. I do think it’s important to provide diplomats with the opportunity to be successful. Countries that are adverse to us don’t often exceed to our desire absent a rationale for doing so. Right? So diplomats without any strength, without any capacity, are just sitting there talking.

Kaine: And, I agree, I think stating that we have a lot of capacity…struck by specificity, would it be your norm to share that kind of information publicly in such specific detail?

Pompeo: Senator, I’m confident if I’d done it multiple times, you’d raise them with me here today.

Kaine: Your assessment, I wonder whether – did you assume that Iran might respond to an attack by the United States, or did you just assume that they would do nothing?

Pompeo: Senator, I don’t know that in the context of that statement, I was thinking about other things.

Kaine: But you would agree with me that the extent of force that the U.S. would need to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity would depend pretty significantly on whether Iran would fight –

Pompeo: Oh yes sir –

Kaine: – to protect against an attack on its own soil.

Pompeo: – absolutely, sir.

Kaine: And then you venture that the attack would not be an insurmountable task for coalition forces and I’m curious about that too. Most of our coalition forces in 2014 were sitting around the table with us trying to do a peaceful negotiation to end Iran’s nuclear capacity. It sounds as if you had confidence that the U.S. could not do a deal and then convinced coalition partners to join us in bombing Iran, I’m curious what coalition partners you were thinking about as you made that comment? 

Pompeo: Senator, I wasn’t thinking of any particular coalition partners when I made that statement.

Kaine: Those comments, when I heard them, about the relative ease of a war against Iran reminded me of the run up to the Iraq War. Vice President Cheney said we’d be greeted as liberators; the President said there were definitely weapons of mass destruction; Secretary Rumsfeld said the invasion would largely be self-financing and would quote “last five weeks or five months, it certainly is not going to last any longer.” Of course, we know that the cost to the United States was 4400 soldiers dead, 500,000 Iraqis dead, and a price tag now topping $3 trillion dollars, and unprecedented turmoil in the region, and most of those facts were known at the time that you made that statement in 2014.

Let me say this, I’m one of two senators who serve on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees. I represent a state that’s deeply committed to the nation’s – I have a son in the military, I honor your military service, your entire public service. I think my mission on these two committees is sort of two things: dramatically reduce the risk of unnecessary war, raise the probability that we decisively win any war that we need to be in.  I also firmly believe that we shouldn’t be at war without a vote of Congress, your actions as a House member suggest that you and I probably see this somewhat the same way. In 2011, I criticized President Obama for putting us into military action against Libya without a vote, and you voted twice to oppose military action unless it was authorized by Congress. In 2014, President Obama came to this committee to ask for the military authority to strike Syria. You supported that in the House, I supported it here in the Senate, the committees supported it. Now, President Trump has ordered missile strikes – fired at Syria last year – he didn’t seek Congressional approval. The U.S. conducted air strikes against the Syrian military in February without Congressional approval. The President is tweeting that he might do additional military strikes in Syria now, and he’s also aiming words directly at Russia. As far as I know, Syria has not declared war against the United States. Has Congress given the President specific authority to wage war against Syria?

Pompeo: Senator, I think you and I actually do share similar bias for the executive and legislative branches both to be involved, when such momentous decisions about war are undertaken. I, now that I’m in the executive branch my views on that have not changed.

Kaine: And you would agree with me that waging a war requires both a domestic and international legal justification? 

Pompeo: Yes, Senator, I would. With respect, I don’t want to dodge your specific question, you asked about Syria. For a long time, multiple Administrations have found that the President has the authority to act and take certain actions without first coming to Congress to seek approval. Whether it was Kosovo, the list from Democrats and Republicans is long – and just to close – I share your view. In each case where we can, America, and our soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines, are better off if we have the entirety of the United States government working together in having authorized the activity.

Kaine: For the past year, I’ve been trying to secure the Administration’s detailed legal justification for last April’s strikes on the Shayrat military base in Syria. The Administration has not fully provided it, and there is reportedly a memo that is laying out a description of what the President or the Administration feels are the appropriate executive powers. Would you support the release of the non-classified portion of that memo to Congress so we can see what the President thinks his powers are and engage in a productive dialogue about that?

Pompeo: Senator, I learned about this memo – I think you shared it with me – I was unaware of that. I promise I will work alongside you to do the best I can to get you that information and if it’s a classified version of it that you have a right as a member of the legislative branch to see, I’ll work to get you that, and if it’s an unclassified version, we’ll work to get you that as well.

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