The Senate voted late Monday to confirm Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to head the Central Intelligence Agency, installing the Tea Party lawmaker atop the main American spy agency amid an acrimonious dispute between President Donald Trump and the intelligence community over allegations of Russian meddling in his election.
Pompeo’s Senate approval by a vote of 66-32 came after a last-minute challenge by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who forced the delay of his confirmation vote from Friday to Monday. Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics with national security, but in an impassioned address on the Senate floor Wyden argued that Pompeo had sought to disguise a series of extreme views on torture and surveillance, and offered contradictory answers during the confirmation process.
When Trump traveled to the CIA on Saturday for a bizarre campaign-style address in which he attacked the media and debated the number of attendees to his inauguration, he had hoped to bring Pompeo with him and swear in the Kansas Republican.
“Everything he’s done has been a homerun,” Trump said Saturday in touting his nominee to lead the agency. Before entering the house in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave, Pompeo ran an aerospace company. He graduated at the head of his class at West Point and later attended Harvard Law School.
With his approval by the Senate, Pompeo will take over an agency skeptical of the Trump administration. On the campaign trail and as president elect, Trump has repeatedly vilified the intelligence community — all the while arguing that this so-called “feud” had been cooked up by the media. As recently as Jan. 11, Trump tweeted that leaks of intelligence documents made him wonder whether he was living in “Nazi Germany.”
As he takes over the agency, Pompeo faces the challenge of winning over the support of an agency famously suspicious of outsiders. The last time a congressman took power at the agency, former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) in 2004, he didn’t last a year in office and faced a revolt from career employees.
Pompeo takes over amid a reform effort launched by his predecessor, John Brennan, a 30-plus year intelligence veteran who White House counselor Kellyanne Conway denounced as a “partisan political hack” on Sunday. Brennan’s reforms have been met with mixed reviews so far, and Pompeo will have to decide to what extent he will continue them.
Perhaps more explosively, Pompeo will also help oversee an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Moscow and its intelligence operatives. An inter-agency body is currently looking into such communications, and the probe has reportedly targeted Trump’s top national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Pompeo has pledged to allow such investigations to continue, even if they ensnare Trump associates.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the administration has not halted any of those investigations.
Wyden and other Democrats — among them Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — had specific concerns about Pompeo.
In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pompeo had pledged that as CIA director he would not allow the use of torture in interrogations. But in subsequent written questions he appeared to backtrack on that commitment and others, alarming Senate civil rights advocates. Trump himself, on the campaign trail, proposed bringing back torture.
In a questionnaire released last week, Pompeo said he would consult with CIA experts on whether national-security imperatives required restrictions on the use of torture to be loosened.
“If confirmed, I will consult with experts at the agency and at other organizations in the U.S. government on whether the Army Field Manual uniform application is an impediment to gathering vital intelligence to protect the country or whether any rewrite of the Army Field Manual is needed,” Pompeo wrote. The CIA is currently required by law to follow the guidelines of the Army Field Manual in carrying out interrogations.
Retired Gen. James Mattis, sworn in as Trump’s secretary of defense, urged Trump to disavow torture as a tool in the war on terror.
Wyden described Pompeo as a “very skilled lawyer” and spent more than an hour detailing contradictions and evasions in Pompeo’s record. Wyden said he had been unable to get Pompeo to delineate any limits on a surveillance program he proposed in a 2016 Wall Street Journal op-ed that Wyden described as “far bigger and more encompassing than any such data collection program that the Bush-Cheney administration ever imagined.”
In that article, Pompeo argued “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.” Pompeo added that “legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
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