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Pompeo's Legacy As The U.S. Secretary Of State

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In Congress, Mike Pompeo made a name for himself as one of the toughest critics of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now, as he wraps up his time as secretary of state, he's getting harsh reviews for his partisanship. NPR's Michele Kelemen takes a look at his legacy.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When Secretary Pompeo first arrived at the State Department, some veteran diplomats hoped that his close relations with the president would mean that after a year of cutbacks, the State Department was back in the game. Pompeo put it this way.

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MIKE POMPEO: They're hopeful that the State Department will get its swagger back, that we will be out doing the things that they came on board at the State Department to do, to be professional, to deliver diplomacy, American diplomacy around the world. That's my mission set to build that esprit and get the team on the field.

KELEMEN: But his close ties to the president often came with a cost to that team. Pompeo refused to support the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted after a smear campaign by Trump's private lawyer. More recently, he shocked many diplomats overseas when he fueled President Trump's baseless claims about this year's election results.

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POMPEO: There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.

KELEMEN: In recent interviews with conservative media, Pompeo stresses the hard line he's taken on Iran and China. But Tamara Cofman Wittes of the Brookings Institution says the secretary, who has his own presidential ambitions, will be remembered for something else.

TAMARA COFMAN WITTES: Secretary Pompeo's lasting mark on American foreign policy is the extent to which he politicized the State Department and the conduct of American foreign policy and made it a part of advancing his own domestic political interests.

KELEMEN: She says he used State Department resources to network. Congressional Democrats have been looking into the dinners Pompeo and his wife hosted with donors and political supporters. And Wittes says pompons recent trip to Israel, where he visited a West Bank settlement and an evangelical Christian museum, seemed mostly aimed at building up his appeal to his fellow evangelicals.

WITTES: That may all serve him well in the future. I don't think it serves the United States well in the world, but I do think that that is his most lasting legacy.

KELEMEN: Pompeo himself count his work against abortion rights as one of his major achievements. The administration has expanded what's known as the global gag rule to block all funding to organizations overseas that provide abortion counseling or services. And in October, Pompeo signed an anti-abortion declaration, along with countries such as Belarus, Hungary, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

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POMPEO: We continue our unprecedented defense of the unborn by signing the Geneva Consensus Declaration alongside 32 other nations. I'm especially proud that we made religious freedom a top priority in the United States foreign policy for the first time in America's history.

KELEMEN: A former State Department official who worked on human rights, though, worries that other civil liberties may be curbed in the name of religious freedom. Rori Kramer points to the latest International Conference on Religious Freedom.

RORI KRAMER: They hosted it in Poland, a country that has LGBTQ-free zones that has basically banned all reproductive access. And they bragged about hosting this religious ministerial freedom.

KELEMEN: Kramer is now with the American Jewish World Service.

KRAMER: When I worked at the State Department, we didn't infuse politics and religion into policy in particular and to universal human rights. And so now the State Department staff has been asked to make basic human rights of others into a domestic political issue.

KELEMEN: She expects a Biden administration to toss aside some of these policies. The U.S. envoy on religious freedom, though, says he's hoping that Pompeo's emphasis on that issue will outlive his tenure as secretary of state.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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