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Opinion: Did Secretary Pompeo Forget His West Point Pledge?

Mike Pompeo graduated first in his class at West Point in 1986, became a tank commander, went to Harvard Law, became a Beltway lawyer, Kansas businessman, congressman, CIA director and, now, secretary of state.

"There's no doubt West Point impacted who I am," Mr. Pompeo has said. "It has an enormous emphasis, not only on military aspects, but character development. Whether it's the honor code, or the interactions you have ... every place you are is a character test.

In these days of qualifiers and codicils, the West Point honor code is concise and plain: "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do."

U.S. Army officers I've met in wars have told me they carry that code through life.

They've explained that "will not lie" includes what Gen. Maxwell Taylor, who was superintendent of West Point, called "quibbling, evasive statements, or the use of technicalities..."

An officer doesn't find clever ways to avoid telling the truth.

If a soldier asks, "Is the enemy behind that hill?" and an officer knows they've actually dug in on top of that hill, the officer shouldn't say, "Oh, not really." A West Point grad is supposed to answer with the truth they know is crucial — not, "quibbling, evasive statements."

Last Sunday, when Secretary Pompeo was asked by ABC's Martha Raddatz about the conversation between President Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine, and the report of a whistleblower about that conversation, the secretary said, "So you just gave me a report about a I.C. whistleblower complaint, none of which I've seen..."

And the secretary told a State Department briefing, "I haven't had a chance to actually read the whistleblower complaint yet. I read the first couple of paragraphs, and then got busy today ..."

It wasn't until Wednesday — after a report in The Wall Street Journal that he had been in on that phone call — when Secretary Pompeo finally said at a press conference in Italy the entire truth about that conversation. He said, "I was on the phone call."

Most politicians can be evasive; it's part of the parlance of politics. But Mike Pompeo is a trained soldier who conducts the foreign policy of the United States.

In the weeks ahead, Secretary Pompeo will be asked to comply with subpoenas and requests for records. You may wonder if he will use his skills to dance, slide and misdirect, or be as honest and direct as the West Point honor code he knows by heart.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.