Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was openly combative against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s questions during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday, characterizing the senator’s questioning as politically motivated.
The committee asked Pompeo to appear for questioning to better understand President Donald Trump’s recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the administration’s ongoing negotiations with North Korea as the U.S. pushes for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Menendez kicked off his time trying to figure out if Pompeo was privy to the details of Trump’s one-on-one, closed-door meeting with Putin on July 16.
“I’d like to ask you some questions to understand what actually happened. Has the president told you what he and president discussed in their two-hour closed-door meetining in Helsinki?” Menendez asked Pompeo.
The president refused to acknowledge that Russian agents attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, causing many within his own party to throw criticism his way. Trump was expected to take a hard line against Putin and address election interference and other topics, like the Russian annexation of Crimea, during the press conference. (RELATED: Trump Talks Putin Election Meddling)
Pompeo said he disagreed with the premise of Menendez’s question, arguing the senator was implying there is something wrong with an elected official having a closed-door meeting with a person, or leader, of interest.
Menendez interrupted Pompeo, asking him whether or not the president told him directly what transpired in the two-hour meeting between the president and Putin.
“I’ve had a number of conversations about what transpired. I was present when he and President Putin gave us a sense of what discussed. I‘ve had the chance to speak about what takes place. I think I have a pretty complete understanding,” Pompeo answered, adding that he has not seen the notes of the translators present or asked them directly about what happened in the meeting.
The senator then pressed Pompeo about whether the president discussed Russia sanctions with Putin.
“I asked a specific question. Did the president tell you he discussed relaxing Russia sanctions or not? Yes or no?” Menendez asked. “You told me he had a conversation and he told you what transpired. I think the nation and all of us who are policy makers deserve to know so that we can fashion policy accordingly. Did he tell Putin that our release or relax sanctions?”
Pompeo did not offer any more details.
“Senator, what you need to know to conduct your appropriate role — that’s United States policies with respect to the issues you request. You asked me about respect to sanctions and I can confirm no commitment has been made to change the policies.”
The final portions of the exchange dealt with the Russian annexation of Ukraine — a term Putin pushed back against in an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace after he met with Trump.
Pompeo promised the president was firm with Putin, but did not directly answer the senator’s question.
“I‘m telling you what he had a conversation about. I’m telling you what U.S. policy is today. I understand the game that you’re playing,” Pompeo said.
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