Pompeo cancels last overseas trip as secretary of state amid torrent of criticism of Trump

CONOR FINNEGAN
·5 min read

Hours before he was expected to depart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceled his final overseas trip amid a torrent of global criticism against President Donald Trump, including by the U.S. allies that Pompeo was expected to meet.

The top U.S. diplomat was scheduled to see NATO's secretary-general and Belgium's foreign minister in Brussels, according to the State Department. But he also reportedly canceled a second stop to Luxembourg, whose foreign minister called Trump "a political pyromaniac" after the president's remarks led to the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol last week.

Pompeo has faced backlash of his own, including from U.S. diplomats, for standing by Trump even as other Republicans condemned his speech, blamed him for the violence or called on him to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect. For weeks, Pompeo has at times boosted Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud or declined to acknowledge Trump's electoral loss, even as he has overseen the agency's transition and met with Biden's pick to succeed him, Anthony Blinken.

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While he has condemned the violent mob and called for prosecutions, Pompeo has also defended Trump's time in office as a boost for the U.S.

"History will reflect on the good work that this president and our administration has done," he told a conservative talk radio host Tuesday.

PHOTO: Tear gas is released into a crowd of protesters during clashes with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress at the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: Tear gas is released into a crowd of protesters during clashes with Capitol police at a rally to contest the certification of the 2020 presidential election results by Congress at the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters, FILE)

Top European officials declined to meet Pompeo in the Trump administration's final days. An European Union spokesperson told ABC News that there were never any plans for Pompeo to meet E.U. officials like Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, or Josep Borrell, the E.U.'s top diplomat.

Neither the Luxembourgish embassy in Washington nor the Foreign Ministry responded to questions. But its foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, confirmed to The Atlantic that the U.S. side canceled a stop there after he told a local broadcaster last Thursday that Trump is "a political pyromaniac who should be sent to criminal court. ... The sixth of January 2021 was a 9/11 attack on democracy itself, and Trump was the one who egged it on."

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Asselborn said he stood by those comments, adding that Pompeo was "never easy" to work with because he consistently defended Trump's "wrong idea of patriotism. ... Very difficult cooperation with him. Pompeo is really one of the last pillars of Trump. In a week, it will be better."

When asked what he'll do with the time he would've spent with Pompeo, Asselborn responded, "Ha! Maybe ride a bike."

The State Department cited the transition to the Biden administration in canceling all official travel this week, including Pompeo's trip to Brussels, home to NATO and E.U. headquarters.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump takes questions as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a news briefing at the White House,  March 20, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: President Donald Trump takes questions as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a news briefing at the White House, March 20, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE)

"We are fully committed to the completion of a smooth and orderly transition process to be finalized over the next 8 days," spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, adding the agency was "pleased with the level of cooperation and professionalism that has been displayed."

Just one day earlier, Ortagus announced that Pompeo would meet NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Sophie Wilmès, Belgian foreign minister and deputy prime minister.

The decision also grounded U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft's scheduled trip to Taiwan. She would have been the third senior Trump official to do so in recent months, with each visit angering the Chinese government that considers Taiwan a breakaway province. A spokesperson for Taiwan's representative office in Washington told ABC News they "understand and respect the transition priorities of the U.S. Department of State."

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It's unclear why Pompeo wanted to make the quick trip to Brussels with less than a week in the administration. His brief time left in office is likely one reason European officials declined to meet him, but that opposition was compounded by the pro-Trump mob ransacking the Capitol last week and interrupting Congress' certification of Biden's victory.

That violence, fueled by Trump and other Republicans' weeks of attacks on the election's credibility, was met with widespread criticism by U.S. allies, including both Stoltenberg and Wilmès.

"Shocking scenes in Washington, DC. The outcome of this democratic election must be respected," Stoltenberg tweeted Wednesday as the siege unfolded in Washington.

PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo steps off a plane upon arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine on Jan 30, 2020. (Pool via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo steps off a plane upon arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine on Jan 30, 2020. (Pool via Getty Images, FILE)

But like Asselborn, Wilmès had gone further and specifically cited Trump's role in inciting the mob.

"Some kind of speeches as a result of dividing a society can really create this kind of problematics," she told BBC News last week. "I was saddened to see that President Trump, when things were evolving really badly and it took so much time to calm down people, still kept saying that the election were a fraud."

Leaders of other top U.S. allies said the same.

"I regret very much that President Trump since November has not conceded his defeat -- and not yesterday either. Doubts about the outcome of the election were stoked, and that set the atmosphere that made last night's events possible," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.

Even Trump's closest friends on the world stage denounced him. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, "In so far as the president consistently has cast doubt on the outcome of a free and fair election, I believe that that was completely wrong. What President Trump has been saying about that has been completely wrong, and I unreservedly condemn encouraging people to behave in the disgraceful way that they did in the Capitol."

Pompeo cancels last overseas trip as secretary of state amid torrent of criticism of Trump originally appeared on abcnews.go.com