The State Department had not provided diplomats with guidance for how to discuss the election results as of Monday night, five US diplomats told CNN.
Two US diplomats said they had been looking forward to hearing Pompeo speak in the hope that it would give them a sense of how to discuss the election results. But Pompeo’s comments instead drew outrage and confusion from US diplomats who argue that they further undermine US credibility.
“I am sick,” said one US diplomat overseas. “How dare he undermine our work.”
“How can he be serious?” said another US diplomat. “This is actually incredibly scary.”
Traditionally, the secretary of state congratulates the President-elect and sends department-wide notes committing the department to a constructive transfer of power.
Without guidance from the department, America’s diplomats do not know the appropriate way to describe Biden’s victory and Trump’s allegations of fraud, which are not based in any evidence.
“It is a totally bizarre place where we are right now. We do not know if we are allowed to call Joe Biden the President-elect,” a third US diplomat overseas said prior to Pompeo’s news conference. “We also cannot answer the questions of any foreign journalists or foreign counterparts in a way that assumes there is a transition.”
Some diplomats have used private conversations with foreign counterparts to point out that the system is working: Americans voted and Trump’s legal gambit must go through the judicial process. Others are distressed about the stain this leaves on American democracy and how it could impact their work going forward.
Trump’s rejection of the results and his efforts to cast doubt on the process are precisely what US diplomats have warned their counterparts in foreign countries against doing.
“It puts posts in a terrible position — everyone pretty much recognizes that there are no substantive legal challenges, and the President’s refusal to concede, and Republicans’ unwillingness to confront him, is all about his political future and theirs,” said former career US diplomat Lewis Lukens. “The legitimacy of the US elections is not seriously in question. So all these diplomats around the world are being forced to ‘pretend’ that we are going through normal electoral processes when, in fact, we really aren’t.”
Another US diplomat said that “it is Trump’s behavior that puts democracies in jeopardy.”
“This is what we have spent a tremendous amount of time lecturing other countries against doing — undermining a legitimate democratic process. I wonder why they would take us seriously now,” this person said.
If Trump’s refusal to concede “goes on for weeks, it gets progressively more challenging to explain/defend,” said another US diplomat.
However, on Tuesday, Pompeo scoffed at a question about whether Trump’s refusal to concede undermines US efforts to ensure free and fair elections abroad, repeatedly calling it “ridiculous.”
“We often encounter situations where it’s not clear about a particular election. We work to uncover facts, we work to do discovery, to learn whether in fact the outcome — the decision that was made — reflected the will of the people,” Pompeo said. “We want every one of those votes to be counted in the same way that we have every expectation that every vote here in the United States will be counted too. It is totally appropriate. The United States has an election system that is laid out deeply in our Constitution and we’re going to make sure that we get that right.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.