Throwing H2O on the Pompeo to State Move

I could be totally wrong, but I don’t think the reported plan for Rex Tillerson to step down, to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, who in turn will be replaced by Tom Cotton (or maybe Admiral Robert Harward because Republicans can’t afford to defend an Arkansas Senate seat), will really happen.

The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, perhaps within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday.

Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.

I say that for two reasons.

First, because of all the evidence that Mike Flynn is working on a plea deal. Particularly given that Mueller has decided he doesn’t need any more evidence of Flynn’s corrupt dealings with Turkey, I suspect his leverage over Flynn has gone well beyond just those crimes (which, in turn, is why I suspect Flynn has decided to flip).

I think that when the plea deal against Flynn is rolled out, it will be associated with some fairly alarming allegations against him and others, allegations that will dramatically change how willing Republicans are to run interference for Trump in Congress.

If I’m right about that, it will make it almost impossible for Pompeo to be confirmed as Secretary of State. Already, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker, who’d oversee the confirmation, is sending signals he’s not interested in seeing Pompeo replace Tillerson.

“I could barely pick Pompeo out of a lineup” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Thursday morning.

Already, Pompeo’s cheerleading of Wikileaks during the election should have been disqualifying for the position of CIA Director. That’s even more true now that Pompeo himself has deemed them a non-state hostile intelligence service.

Add in the fact that Pompeo met with Bill Binney to hear the skeptics’ version of the DNC hack, and the fact that Pompeo falsely suggested that the Intelligence Community had determined Russia hadn’t affected the election. Finally, add in the evidence that Pompeo has helped Trump obstruct the investigation and his role spying on CIA’s own investigation into it, and there’s just far too much smoke tying Pompeo to the Russian operation.

All that will become toxic once Mike Flynn’s plea deal is rolled out, I believe.

So between Corker and Marco Rubio, who both treat Russia’s hack of the election with real seriousness (remember, too, that Rubio himself was targeted), I don’t see how Pompeo could get out of the committee.

But there’s another reason I don’t think this will happen. I suspect it — like earlier threats to replace Jeff Sessions — is just an attempt to get Tillerson to hew the Administration line on policy. The NYT cites Tillerson’s difference of opinion on both North Korea and Iran.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea

It’s Iran that’s the big issue, particularly as Jared frantically tries to finish his “peace” “plan” before he gets arrested himself. The fact that Trump has floated Cotton as Pompeo’s replacement is strong support for the notion that this is about forcing Tillerson to accept the Administration lies about Iran and the nuclear deal: because Cotton, more than anyone else, has been willing to lie to oppose the deal.

Trump is basically saying that unless Tillerson will adopt the lies the Administration needs to start a war with Iran, then he will be ousted.

But Tillerson’s claim that he doesn’t need to replace all the people who’ve left state because he thinks a lot of domestic issues will be solved soon seems to reflect that he’s parroting the Administration line now.

Obviously, there’s no telling what will happen, because Trump is completely unpredictable.

But he also likes to use threats to get people to comply.

Update: CNN now reporting I’m correct.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. Anon says:

    First, thank you for that analysis Marcy that is clearer than most of the reporting I’ve seen.

    Second, I actually think that there may be another reason why Pompeo would fail a transfer is one of basic competence. Already the war hawks like McCain are growing publicly alarmed by the existing state of affairs at State. Given Pompeo’s … erratic … decisions I suspect that if Trump actually made a shift of this magnitude they would push for someone better. Attempting to tank Education or the EPA is one thing but at least some Republicans really do care about the foreign service.

    Third, why do you think that Tillerson’s comments about “solving some problems” reflect that he has taken the administration’s line? As I see it he came in with the same deep-seated belief that whatever had been going on was wrong and that he could restructure and manage things just like any CEO. One of his early picks was a restructuring person that has just left. I don’t see that line as a change in his attitude just a willingness to be open about his assumptions.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I don’t take Tillerson’s line about solving problems at face value. It might be snark or a Bronx cheer to his critics that reveals nothing.

    Tillerson, unlike Trump, does have a firm grasp on reality. He knows that today’s problems, even if solved, will be replaced by similarly complicated ones tomorrow. The question is what will State’s role be in addressing them for the USG.

    I don’t think he cares what State was. He seems to think he has the juice and a CEO’s privilege to fundamentally recast its role into something smaller, less capable, less of a restriction on presidential whim or private sector initiative, perhaps even a shell that contracts out its former work.

    I don’t know that resolving this game of possible musical chairs will alter this administration’s efforts to do that. Chaos caused by indictments of the president’s family or closest advisers might derail it. We can only hope that Corker and Rubio stick to this issue longer than their colleagues fought to protect health insurance.

    • posaune says:

      hmm . . .  with all those folks leaving State (or pushed), will those left be the old CIA cutouts (posing in attache positions) who worked in the black sites (i.e. Szymany)?  under contract now? What a fall!

  3. John Ely says:

    I find this persuasive.  Any thoughts as well on the socalled suicide pact reported last month regarding Tillerson, Mattis and Mnuchin?  Howard Fineman suggested this evening that the attempted shuffling of Pompeo and Cotton is part of a strategy of putting cabinet officials more firmly in place that will suppress Russiagate….

     

  4. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Pompeo and Dompeo. You can have that for free.

    It feels as if the authoritarian urge has had a surge over the past couple of weeks, perhaps because of the Flynn stuff, perhaps because of other stuff we don’t know about. Cotton and his chicken neck scare the shit out of me, because aside from the whole neck thing, he seems like an answer to the question “what would the demented old fucker look like and sound like if he weren’t a demented old fucker?” But the broader theme is sounding out those who are willing to participate in both Big Destabilising Lies on foreign policy and shut down the Russia investigation.

    Given the NYT story about the demented idiot leaning on intel committee GOPers — and the hint that this may be a limited hangout of more egregious stuff — it might be worth revisiting what Nunes and his pals were doing when he was recused-not-recused over the summer.

  5. Serocco says:

    So either we go to war with Iran now (Tillerson) or we go to war with Iran later (Pompeo).

    That’s not any better.

  6. Bay State Librul says:

    OT,

    Is Mike Pence alive?
    Haven’t seen or heard from since Mueller invaded the White House.
    Is he still whistling “Hail to the Chief”

    • harpie says:

      The paperwork via Kyle Griffin:

      The court has scheduled a plea hearing for Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn (Ret.), 58, of Alexandria, Va., at 10:30 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras at the D.C. federal courthouse on 3rd and Constitution.

  7. klynn says:

    Re Flynn…Wonder if this statement I received from someone is correct:

    …he can be recalled to service under the uscmj and discharged dishonorably and face a military sentence in Leavenworth of about 5 years.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      That would not bode well for his pension and benefits either.  If his lawyer is competent, s/he will have tried to negotiate all of those things as part of his plea agreement.

      • Anon says:

        But if his plea agreement is with Meuller that may not be something that he can offer. The military courts are their own entity and don’t necessarily answer to a special counsel.

  8. harpie says:

    See Marcy’s tweet:

    This is why the inclusion abt Flynn lie abt Palestinian settlements votes in Flynn’s information matters. [Haaretz: “Report: Mueller Investigating Kushner’s efforts to combat UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements.”]

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      The timeline for the lie also fits with Yates warning the WH about Flynn, and the idiot demanding a loyalty pledge from Comey.

      Crown Prince Jared is in Mueller’s sights. The statement of facts that will accompany this morning’s hearing will say more.

  9. monty market says:

    Another reason for Tillerson troubles with drumpf: Tillerson last week or so refused State Dept support for Ivanka’s trip to India to obtain illegal emoluments from foreign government through licensing/patenting her knock-off shoes, clothing lines, for example. This is the whole point of the drumpf presidency: trade access to the highest levels of the USG in exchange for the right to market trashy drumpf clothing lines/golf courses/hotels in foreign countries.

    Heard Marcie Wheeler on Democracy Now this morning: she’s right on her analysis of Flynn and all.

  10. Silence Hand says:

    Josh Marshall also nailed this.  Probably Trump, who of course can’t actually muster the spine to fire anyone, just wants to make life unpleasant enough for Rex so he quits.  The knock-on benefit here is that the media is totally punked, and the Trumpalumpas get to cry “Fake News”!  All gravy.

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