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Sen. Robert Menendez Reacts To Pompeo's Foreign Relations Committee Testimony


Some of the most heated exchanges in this hearing came when Secretary Pompeo responded to questions about what happened between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Helsinki. One of the senators who wanted more details on the leaders' private meeting joins us now. New Jersey's Bob Menendez is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, thanks for joining us.

BOB MENENDEZ: Good to be with you.

SHAPIRO: What did you learn from Secretary Pompeo about what happened in that closed-door meeting in Helsinki?

MENENDEZ: Not very much. I learned that the reason that there is such concern is because no one has a clear readout of what transpired between President Trump and President Putin for over two hours. What we have is what took place at the press conference in Helsinki. And that was alarming to members on both sides of the aisle, which is why we were trying to pierce an understanding of how far he had been briefed and what elements of a conversation for over two hours were being pursued.

And, you know, it's interesting that, you know, Secretary Pompeo, when it seems to be of benefit to the administration, will suggest that he knew something. But when if not, he says it's a private conversation. It only seems to be a private conversation for President Trump because Putin and the Russian defense and public relations ministry is telling all about it. So it obviously has a much different view.

SHAPIRO: So, as you say, Russia has said that there were agreements reached. Do you have any clearer understanding than you did yesterday about whether there were agreements reached between Trump and Putin?

MENENDEZ: About the only thing that we can gleam from the secretary's testimony is that he was told to put some business-to-business council together with Russia, which I don't even understand why we're doing that when we are seeking to sanction a series of the Russian economic sector. It seems to be counter to the whole effort of sanctioning to create a terror - an antiterrorism cooperation. But that's about all I gleamed. And I can't believe that that's all that was discussed for over two hours.

SHAPIRO: Given that this is not a typical Republican-Democrat divide, that there are Republicans who are very concerned, as are Democrats, do you think there's any room for Congress to do something here?

MENENDEZ: Well, I asked the secretary specifically had he spoken to the interpreter or did he see any notes from her. He said he did not - didn't feel that he needed to. This is something that, while unique, because of the uniqueness of the circumstances that President Trump alarmed the nation, alarmed those of us who are policymakers - as it relates to foreign policy in the Senate and in the Congress - that we should get access to, whether in a classified setting, an interview with the interpreter, looking over her notes, would give us either a sense of clarity and maybe certainty and comfort or maybe a sense of alarm. And it is my concern that I cannot believe that for two hours President Trump spent this amount of time with President Putin and only talked about those things that the secretary says he's been charged with following up on.

SHAPIRO: It seems like you were trying to ask Secretary Pompeo, in so many words, do you even know what was discussed in that room? And Secretary Pompeo got a little bit indignant and kind of scoffed at the question. But do you think he does know what happened in that room?

MENENDEZ: No. I don't think he knows what happens in that room.

SHAPIRO: That's kind of shocking. He's the secretary of state, right?

MENENDEZ: It is. Well, it's kind of shocking that you go into a meeting for two hours and you don't have your secretary of state or your national security adviser or the director of National Intelligence with you because that allows the Russians to ultimately, you know, characterize the discussion as they are doing without a counter to it. And it's interesting to see that we see no counter. Therefore, when members of the committee are citing the Russian ministry of defense, they're doing it not because they believe the Russian ministry of defense, but they're looking for counter arguments.

And when the administration is unwilling to be transparent and speak to it and let us know what actually transpired, it then gives credence to what the Russians are doing. And this is a major concern. So also, when we asked him about what happened over - nearly two months ago, we haven't had a briefing and it's incredible - no member of the Senate - not any member of this committee...

SHAPIRO: Two months ago - you mean in the North Korea summit with Kim Jong Un.

MENENDEZ: On North Korea - but we were asking him specifically, well, what transpired? And I can - I am assured that if in fact they had some agreements as to any of these elements that we were questioning about, they would be heralding them to the high heaven. They have no agreements on anything.

SHAPIRO: All right. Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thank you for joining us.

MENENDEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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