In selecting U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo of Wichita to lead the CIA, President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a supporter of strong interrogation and surveillance as a means of keeping Americans safe.
If the Senate confirms Pompeo to lead a sprawling agency with 21,500 employees and an annual budget of $15 billion, Trump will have someone who reflects his views on national security.
“I think it means these guys are going to get tougher on terrorists, which I think is a very good thing and I think was one of the key issues of the campaign that people didn’t feel safe at home or abroad,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. “You’re putting in place a very strong, ‘tough on terrorism’ man to head the CIA.”
Voters in Kansas’ 4th Congressional District would select a new member of Congress during a special election that has yet to be set.
Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said Pompeo’s outspoken manner likely impressed the president-elect, who doesn’t mince words himself.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it. There’s no dilly-dallying around or trying to go around the subject matter or making any excuse,” Roberts said of Pompeo. “He’s very direct.”
Republican state Sen. Michael O’Donnell of Wichita said Pompeo brings to the job a bold personality that sometimes clashes with his colleagues, but will serve him well in his new role.
“He’s not in politics to make friends. He’s in politics to get stuff done,” O’Donnell said. “My country’s going to be safer with Mike Pompeo as director of the CIA.”
Those who know Pompeo well say that his directness is a net positive, even if it occasionally bruises the feelings of colleagues.
“That’s one of the things that’s most refreshing about Mike, that what you see is what you get,” said U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican who represents Topeka. “He’s authentic and real and he’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks without mincing words every single time.”
A different approach
Pompeo, a three-term congressman from Wichita, is a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate and a vocal member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
Elected to Congress in the tea party wave of 2010, he’s been an unrelenting critic of the Obama administration’s policies, making him a good fit for what’s all but certain to be a sharply different approach to national security policy under Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Pompeo sharply criticized a 2014 report by Senate Democrats on CIA interrogation practices, including waterboarding, and defended the men and women who carried them out.
“These men and women are not torturers,” Pompeo said at the time, “they are patriots.”
He has supported restoring the National Security Agency’s access to the bulk data it collected under a controversial surveillance program revealed by exiled government contractor Edward Snowden.
“I believe that program has proven to be a very valuable asset for the intelligence community and for law enforcement, Pompeo told McClatchy in January. “We ought not to take that tool away from our intelligence community while the threats are as great as they are today.”
He has been a staunch opponent of Obama’s plans to close the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and relocate some of its prisoners to U.S. sites, including Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
Guantanamo, Pompeo said, “has been a goldmine of intelligence about radical Islamic terrorism.”
He’s an ardent foe of Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, in which the longtime U.S. adversary promised to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for eased economic sanctions. In the House, Pompeo has introduced numerous bills to maintain or increase sanctions on Iran.
Pompeo has also served on the special House committee that investigated the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The committee’s report came down hard on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on whose watch the attack occurred. Pompeo co-authored a separate report that accused Clinton of downplaying the attack because President Barack Obama was up for re-election that fall.
Drawing a line
Pompeo has made varied statements about Muslims. Weeks after the Boston marathon bombing in 2013, in a speech on the House floor, he said Islamic faith leaders were not doing enough to condemn terrorist attacks and suggested they might be encouraging them.
“When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith, and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on those that are the leaders of that faith,” Pompeo said. “Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and more importantly still, in those that may well follow.”
After a fact-finding trip to the Middle East last year, though, Pompeo drew a bright line between the religion of Islam and Islamic-toned extremism practiced by terrorist groups such as ISIS.
“You don’t find many Thomas Jeffersons over there,” Pompeo said in a speech to the Republican Pachyderm Club in Wichita. “Once you accept that ... the line needs to be drawn between those who are on the side of extremism and those who are fighting against them, of whatever faith we may find them.”
“There are many Muslims of goodwill and (they) despise this extremism as much as anyone of any other faith,” he said after the meeting.
In April, Pompeo called on the Islamic Society of Wichita to cancel a speech by Monzer Taleb slated for Good Friday. He called Taleb a “Hamas-connected sheik,” which a spokesman for Taleb disputed.
The society canceled the event because of safety concerns and because the members didn’t want to be tagged as supporting terrorism, organizers said.
Hussam Madi, a spokesman for the society, said Pompeo’s appointment as CIA director shouldn’t affect Muslims “one way or another.”
“I hope he’s not going to come into the office and target any one specific group,” he said. “At the end of the day, we all as citizens hope that everybody works for the benefit of the great country we live in.”
In Pompeo, Trump has found someone whose leadership he values.
“He has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens,” Trump said of Pompeo in a statement Friday. “He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies.”
Pompeo said he looks “forward to working with America’s intelligence warriors, who do so much to protect Americans each and every day.”
The agency came under scrutiny in recent years for its controversial interrogation practices of terrorism suspects. Trump has said that he approves the use of such methods.
Pompeo will have to answer questions about the issue when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence holds hearings on his nomination.
In a statement after the 2014 release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s interrogation practices, Pompeo said they were lawful, and sharply criticized the report’s author, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution, and conducted with the full knowledge Senator Feinstein,” he said then. “If any individual did operate outside of the program’s legal framework, I would expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Feinstein said Friday that Pompeo was “absolutely wrong” in saying CIA interrogation techniques were within the law.
“Congressman Pompeo would know all of this if he were to read the report,” Feinstein said in a blistering statement. She promised to bring up the issue when Pompeo appears before the committee for his confirmation hearing.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the current chairman of the committee, said Pompeo is “well-equipped” for the job.
“I respect him as a colleague, and he is more than capable of handling this challenging role,” Burr said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him to ensure that the CIA is well positioned to reinforce our national security in the coming years.”
Roberts, himself a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recommended Pompeo to Trump’s transition team.
“The thing I can say about Mike is he will support principled policies that put America’s security first and he won’t waver,” Roberts said. “There won’t be any gobbledygook.”
Contributing: Dion Lefler, Stan Finger and Tim Potter of The Eagle