WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to say if the State Department’s would cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team and said instead that he expected “a smooth transition to a a second Trump administration.”
President Donald Trump has disputed the election results, and many of his Republican allies are supporting his bid to challenge the vote counts in key swing states.
But Pompeo’s remarks Tuesday went much further than others, by suggesting those legal challenges might result in a Trump victory. Legal experts have said his claims are weak, and even Trump’s allies in Congress concede the lawsuits are unlikely to change the Nov. 3 election outcome.
The Associated Press and other media outlets, including the Trump-friendly Fox News network, declared Biden the winner on Saturday.
Pompeo’s remarks were also startling because they come as world leaders were publicly and privately congratulating Biden on his election win. One such call on Tuesday came from United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“The Prime Minister warmly congratulated Joe Biden on his election as President of the United States,” a spokesman for Johnson said after the conversation. “They discussed the close and longstanding relationship between our countries and committed to building on this partnership in the years ahead, in areas such as trade and security – including through NATO.”
Pompeo was asked during a news conference if the State Department would cooperate with Biden’s transition team – and if not, whether that would pose a risk to U.S. national security.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo said. “We’re ready. The world is watching what’s taking place here, and we’re gonna count all the votes.”
He went on to say that the world should have “every confidence” the State Department will be ready for the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Pompeo’s remark quickly drew fire from the right and the left.
“Be alarmed,” tweeted Bill Kristol, an anti-Trump conservative.
“This is shocking, shameful, & dangerous,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat from Virginia and former CIA officer, tweeted. “Our free & fair elections and our commitment to the peaceful transition of power have long been the foundation of our country’s strength and our example in the world, yet @SecPompeo is now seemingly denying the results of our elections.”
Pompeo also said it was “ridiculous” to ask whether Trump’s refusal to accept the election results undercut the State Department’s message to other countries to hold free and fair elections.
“That’s ridiculous. And you know it’s ridiculous, you asked it because it’s ridiculous,” he told the Reuters reporter who posed the question.
He said the State Department works diligently “to make sure that elections around the world are safe and secure and free and fair. And my officers risked their lives to ensure that that happens.”
He said the effort to make sure every vote is counted in the Nov. 3 election is consistent with that. He did not answer a question about whether he’s seen any evidence of voter fraud, which Trump and his campaign have alleged without providing any supporting evidence.
Right now, a Trump appointee has refused to affirm Biden’s electoral win, preventing the president-elect’s team Biden from beginning its official transition. Emily W. Murphy, head of the federal General Services Administration, has yet to sign off on an official declaration recognizing Biden’s victory, a move that has blocked his staff from accessing federal funding, briefing materials and office space to gear up for the transfer of power.
That includes barring Biden from using the State Department’s secure phone system to speak with foreign leaders. It may also slow the Biden team’s ability to get background investigations and security clearances for high-level staffers and nominees.
At a news conference in Delaware, Biden seemed to laugh off Pompeo’s remarks. He predicted that Republicans would eventually recognize his victory and said his transition is “well underway.”
“We are already beginning the transition,” he said. “Nothing’s going to stop that.”
Asked what he is telling world leaders, Biden said: “I’m letting them know that America’s back.”