U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Saturday that such criticism — including from members of the previous administration — fails to recognize what Trump’s team has done, or the missteps of past presidents.
“Boy, that’s crazy talk. That’s absolutely crazy talk. And I’ve heard it — I’ve heard it from the previous administration. They say, ‘Oh, we’re not tough on Russia.’ I only wish they would have stopped the election interference,” Pompeo said, referring to Kremlin meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“I only wish they would have put global Magnitsky on some of the bad actors in Russia in the way this administration ” has, he said. “I only wish they hadn’t gutted the defense budget to the great benefit of Vladimir Putin. “
The Magnitsky Act is an Obama-era law that lets the United States punish individual human rights offenders.
Military spending not a ‘good thing’ for Russia
Trump’s administration has “put real money into our Defense Department,” Pompeo said, characterizing the American military build up as inherently problematic for Russia.
“Vladimir Putin can’t possibly think that’s a good thing for him,” he said.
Notably, Trump has both sought to increase the U.S. military budget as well as suggested he would like to work with the Russian president to cut down on the “crazy” arms race.
Still, Pompeo said his boss has been as tough as any president on Russia.
“The actions that this administration takes I would put up against any in terms of our seriousness in pushing back on Russia and raising costs for them,” the secretary of state said.
Washington still hopes, however, to find common ground with Moscow, Pompeo said, pointing to Syria and Afghanistan as places where the U.S. and Russia can work together. The topic of Venezuela, he suggested, is more complex.
In general, the secretary of state said he has a responsibility to try to make progress with Putin’s regime.
“There are places that we’ll have a value set that is radically different, that we’ll have different views. In those places we’re going to protect America’s interests,” he said. “But in those places where we can find common ground or an overlapping interest, it’s completely appropriate, and, indeed, my duty and a necessity, that we work together.”