When pressed on whether he and his department are preparing to hand over power to President-elect Biden and his team, Pompeo, who at times grew irritated at the questions, made it clear he didn’t see the contest as having concluded. At one point, he referred to the importance of counting “every legal vote” — phrasing other Trump allies have used to suggest without evidence that widespread voter fraud helped Biden.
“When the process is complete, there will be electors selected,” he said. “There’s a process. The Constitution lays it out pretty clearly.”
Pompeo is one of Trump’s most loyal confidants, and he rarely breaks with the president in public. Still, his unwillingness to accept the election results is just more evidence that Trump will not easily quit power. It also sends a signal to the rest of the world of potentially perilous days ahead in America.
The secretary of State’s comments follow a decision by Attorney General William Barr to loosen restrictions on federal prosecutors investigating voter fraud, which Trump claims was rampant. Trump himself, meanwhile, has used Twitter and other means to insist that he won the Nov. 3 election. Some top Republicans have said Trump should have his chance to fight the results in court, while many others have stayed silent and not congratulated Biden.
At the same time, the head of the U.S. General Services Administration has held off on making the necessary declaration that would allow U.S. executive branch bodies to start interfacing with members of Biden’s transition team. Trump political appointees at various agencies and departments, meanwhile, have told colleagues to proceed with their work as if nothing is changing.
That includes the State Department. Although there is a transition-focused team set up and led by career employees, there’s little it can do until the GSA administrator makes a declaration. State Department employees, meanwhile, told POLITICO there had been little acknowledgement by political appointees on staff calls or other forums that change is afoot.
“That’s their model of dealing with things — if you don’t acknowledge it, it didn’t happen,” one State Department official said of the political appointees.
State Department bureaus have been collecting congratulatory statements from other governments and sending them up the chain, but it’s unlikely those statements have been passed along to the Biden team because of the lack of a GSA declaration.
“My understanding is they are collecting and holding info at this point,” a second State Department official said.
World leaders, meanwhile, have been getting in touch with Biden. The president-elect has spoken to the leaders of Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Germany, though the exact order wasn’t clear.
When asked whether the State Department had taken up its traditional duty of helping arrange such calls during the transition, a Biden aide noted, “We are not able to contact the State Department without GSA ascertainment.”
Biden, a former vice president, said on Tuesday that he had received a welcome reception from the world leaders who have been in touch. When asked whether he would pursue legal action to force the transition to officially begin, Biden said it would be unnecessary, regardless of claims by the president and Pompeo.
“Secretary of State Pompeo,“ Biden said, laughing and not commenting on him further.
The Biden transition team on Tuesday released the names of the people on its “agency review teams.” The teams are dispatched during transition to various agencies and departments to assess the situations there ahead of the transfer of power.
Pompeo, meanwhile, is expected to travel to several countries in the coming days, and the encounters could get awkward if he’s unwilling to acknowledge he may be out of a job by Jan. 20.
According to documents seen by POLITICO, the secretary plans to visit France, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia between Nov. 13 and Nov. 22.
Pompeo has been holding general news conferences roughly every two weeks over the past several months. He seemed upset that reporters on Tuesday kept asking him about the election, noting that he wanted to talk about foreign policy. But he also at times tried to strike an assuring tone.
“The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today and successful with the president who’s in office on January 20th, a minute after noon, will also be successful,” he said.
Asked whether he believed the allegations by Trump and others of voter fraud, Pompeo said: “I’m very confident that we will count — and we must count — every legal vote. We must make sure that any vote that wasn’t lawful ought not be counted. That dilutes your vote if it’s done improperly. We got to get that right. And when we get it right, we’ll get it right.”
One reporter pointed out that Pompeo had routinely issued statements counseling other countries on the importance of free and fair elections, and urging those who lost the elections to concede.
“Doesn’t President Trump’s refusal to concede discredit those efforts?” the reporter asked.
“That’s ridiculous,” Pompeo shot back in a flash of anger. “And you know it’s ridiculous. And you asked it because it’s ridiculous.”
“We want every one of those votes [overseas] to be counted in the same way that we have every expectation that every vote here in the United States will be counted, too,” he said. “It is totally appropriate. The United States has an election system that is laid out deeply in our Constitution, and we’re going to make sure that we get that right.”
In an evening appearance on Fox News, Pompeo expanded on his earlier remarks without directly referring to a second Trump administration.
“We‘ll have a smooth transition and we’ll see what the people ultimately decided when all the votes have been cast,” he told the network’s Bret Baier. “We have a process, Bret. The Constitution lays out how electors vote. It‘s a very detailed process laid out. We need to comply with all of that, and then I am very confident that we will have a good transition. That we will make sure whoever is in office on noon on January 20 has all the tools readily available so that we don‘t skip a beat with the capacity to keep Americans safe. That‘s what I was speaking to.“
Matthew Choi and Kelly Hooper contributed to this report.