Melinda Henneberger

Amid whoppers, Mike Pompeo advises audience at K-State that telling the truth is key


My best friend’s dad, one Adrian Monnat, a Buick dealer in Wichita, used to tell us that for those of us lucky enough to be born on second base, success in life would mostly depend on common sense, the ability to get along with people and one helluva — and yes, it was always helluva — lot of hard work.

Another former Wichita businessman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, gave much the same advice on Friday at Kansas State University, where he delivered the Landon Lecture. Know your history, he said. Tell the truth. And here comes the helluva: “I’ve never seen anyone be successful in life who didn’t work their tail off.”

Back to that second thing Pompeo said, though? Tell the truth like I tell the president the truth, he said, and did not seem to mean this as a laugh line.

It should have been. As laid out in a recent New Yorker profile, way back in 2016 then-obscure Rep. Pompeo thought the truth was that Donald J. Trump was a “con artist.” He told a booing crowd in Wichita that Trump, like Barack Obama, would, if elected, be “an authoritarian president who ignored our Constitution.”

A man who can talk his way back from that truth to the one that his now-boss President Trump most counts on him for — that he’s the fairest of them all — is definitely someone who’s working his tail off.

And even at K-State, Trump’s favorite Cabinet secretary advised truth but told whoppers.

To a physics professor who asked why science is being disregarded and there’s an “exodus of scientists” from government service, Pompeo insisted that no such thing is occurring.

The K-State professor specifically asked Pompeo about an intelligence analyst who left his job at the State Department after he was blocked from testifying before Congress about the security implications of climate change.

Other recent departures include a top climate scientist who quit the U.S. Department of Agriculture after accusing the Trump administration of trying to deep-six his report about what rising carbon dioxide levels are doing to rice yields, and a National Park Service researcher who said she lost her job after refusing to remove all references to the human contribution to climate change from a peer-reviewed paper.

Without getting into any specifics, Pompeo suggested that none of what the professor was worried about was actually happening. On the contrary, he said, the Trump administration has “relied more on science than any administration in history.”

This is one way in which the Trump administration has doubtless bested Abraham Lincoln’s, but I’d love to hear more about how he figures it’s more science-based than Barack Obama’s.

Pompeo did not work his tail off on this off-the-rack speech, which was just under 17 minutes of largely recycled lines from his July Wall Street Journal op-ed in praise of the value we as a country place on protecting human rights, here and around the world. The audience laughed at his jokes, and he came across as an affable guy you wouldn’t mind sitting next to on a plane.

But to a young woman who asked why, then, the administration tramples the human rights of those who arrive at our border with Mexico after fleeing persecution and violence, Pompeo denied that we’re doing anything of the kind. “The Trump administration very strongly opposes people coming here,” she said, only mildly summarizing the family-separating, toddler-caging, vaccine-denying nightmare at our border under this president.

“That’s fundamentally not true,” Pompeo said. He said what’s really happening is that the government is responding appropriately to an attitude he summed up as, “Just come on in.” That attitude is just “not right,” he said. “That’s not fair.”

We’re more generous to immigrants than any other country in the world, Pompeo said, but have to welcome them in a way that’s “respectful of the rule of law” and of human dignity itself.

“We’re closer today than we were two years ago,” he said. “We’re working hard at that.”

Also, wet is dry, hot is cold and telling the truth is the key to Mike Pompeo’s success.

Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times in New York, Washington, D.C. and Rome. In 2019, she was a Pulitzer finalist for commentary and received the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing from the News Leaders Association.