Trump gives blessing for Pompeo exit

US President Donald Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AFP file photo)

President Donald Trump said on Friday he would support Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he quit running for Senate, as the top US diplomat becomes increasingly embroiled in the impeachment drama.

Trump's blessing for his close ally's potential departure marks the first public confirmation that Pompeo is considering the Senate race next year in his home state of Kansas.

Always careful not to upset Trump, Pompeo has been coy in his statements on a Senate bid even as his repeated trips to Kansas and regular interviews with media in the Great Plains state increasingly left little doubt.

In an interview with "Fox and Friends," Trump said that Pompeo told him, "'Look, I'd rather stay where I am'" but that he "loves Kansas."

"If he thought there was a chance of (the Republican Party) losing that seat, I think he would do that, and he would win in a landslide because they love him in Kansas," Trump said.

Kansas is heavily Republican and has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932, the longest streak that any state has shut out one of the two major US parties.

But neither party is taking chances on next year's election, in which Trump is seeking a second term.

Kansas elected a Democrat as governor last year and the Republican candidates for the Senate nomination include Kris Kobach, a firebrand anti-immigration activist who is unlikely to appeal to centrists.

Just in September, Pompeo emerged as the king of US foreign policy after the departure of John Bolton, Trump's hawkish national security adviser who was considered a master of inside-Washington maneuvering.

But a Senate victory would ensure continued influence for the 55-year-old Pompeo regardless of whether Trump wins next year -- or if Trump, despite all his public statements, suddenly sours on him, as the mercurial president is wont to do with people around him.

Pompeo, an evangelical Christian former congressman with roots in the populist Tea Party movement, is widely seen as harboring ambitions to run for president himself in 2024.

And then there is Ukraine. Pompeo, who cast himself as a defender of the State Department when he arrived in March 2018, has come under fire for not vigorously defending diplomats caught up in the scandal.

Pompeo declined, for example, to offer any support for career diplomat Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump removed as ambassador to Kiev, bad-mouthed to Ukraine's president and assailed by Twitter while she was appearing before Congress.

Pompeo is also increasingly implicated personally in the scandal. He acknowledged that he was on the July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for "a favor" -- an episode that triggered the impeachment inquiry.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, said under oath that Pompeo was kept in the loop of what the envoy considered an improper effort by Trump to force Ukraine to announce an investigation into domestic political rival Joe Biden.

In strikingly harsh language, Thomas Friedman, the longtime foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times, accused Pompeo of failing to heed lessons from his classes at the elite West Point military academy, where Pompeo graduated first in his class.

"I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man," Friedman wrote.

NBC News, quoting unnamed sources, recently reported that the scandal has caused a rift as well between Pompeo and Trump, who resented how Pompeo had not stopped State Department officials' appearances.

But Trump indicated that Pompeo still enjoyed his support, saying in the Fox interview: "Mike has done an incredible job."

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