The Senate on Monday confirmed Rep. Mike Pompeo to be director of the CIA, following a spirited debate in which Democrats expressed concern about his stances on domestic surveillance, data collection and torture.
The vote was 66 to 32, with a majority of Democrats voting no — as well as Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Once sworn in, the Kansas Republican and member of the House Intelligence Committee will take over amid an unusually public fight between the agency and President Donald Trump over intelligence pointing to Russian attempts to influence the election by hacking the emails of leading Democratic Party organizations and officials.
Trump has dismissed those findings and launched several public broadsides against the intelligence community but over the weekend sought to mend fences with a visit to CIA headquarters.
The debate over Pompeo’s nomination also laid bare some of the key flash points in Congress over the role of the intelligence community in domestic surveillance and his expressed views on Islam.
Wyden, speaking for more than an hour, repeatedly questioned Pompeo’s confirmation hearing answers, both spoken and written, as well as his true stance on torture and how he plans to run the CIA.
“We are headed into dangerous times,” Wyden said. “We need a CIA director who is direct about his beliefs and his assessments. Time and time again the nominee has taken multiple positions on the same issue which is why I’ve given him a number of opportunities to explain where he stands, but… that has been impossible.”
Wyden repeatedly raised alarms about Pompeo’s support for an intelligence database that would collect a broad array of information on Americans, including financial data and social media postings.
“His positions on surveillance have failed to recognize that it’s possible to have security and liberty,” Wyden said. “I see virtually no commitment towards real transparency and his views on the most fundamental analysis issue of the day – the involvement of Russia in our election – seem to shift with those of the president.
Wyden continued: “His changing positions on all of these matters suggest that the rare moment when the American people actually have an opportunity to know who it is we are entrusting with some of the most important, weighty and secret positions in government, they’re going to be denied that chance.”
Some Democrats who backed Pompeo’s nomination also expressed concerns. “While I do not agree with some of the views he has expressed, Congressman Pompeo has impressed me with his respect for the dedication and impartiality of the intelligence professionals at the CIA,” said Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee. “I have received his assurances that he will accurately represent the unvarnished views of the analysts who work there, no matter what the President or others may want to hear, and that he will cooperate with Congress, particularly as we look into Russia’s efforts to interfere with our election system.
“I have also been reassured by the multiple responses he has made under oath to comply with the law banning torture,” he added.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M), who voted no, questioned Pompeo’s “troubling” opinions on Muslims.
“He has stated that Muslims are quote, ‘contentiously complicit in acts of terrorism if they don’t condemn it,'” Udall said. “Muslim leaders around the world condemn such acts. Accusing Muslim leaders of complacency and acts of terrorism that they have nothing to do with, that they oppose, is not acceptable speech from a director of a national security agency.”
Republicans, who sought to confirm Pompeo on Friday, after Trump was sworn in as president, accused Democrats of slow-walking some of Trump’s nominees.
GOP members had argued Pompeo’s nomination didn’t require a floor debate — and largely took to the floor Monday evening to rail against the Affordable Care Act.
Democrats, however, had pushed to delay the vote after citing concerns with Pompeo’s endorsement of a more muscular surveillance apparatus.
At the close of the vote, the democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, urged his colleagues to take more time with other Trump nominees.
“This is not how nominations should go,” said Schumer, who voted in favor of the nomination. “Now, I know with a swamp cabinet — bankers, billionaires, more wealth, more potential conflicts of interest, more positions way far over from what the American people want — I know why our Republican colleagues want to rush these nominees through. But let me reiterate: they will have tremendous power over the lives of average Americans. A few extra days to examine and explore what they believe, to make sure that they don’t have conflicts of interest? Who wouldn’t be for that? Unless they don’t want the facts to come out. So we’re not stalling nominations. This isn’t sport. This is serious stuff.”
Republicans speaking in Pompeo’s favor extolled his character and integrity. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called Pompeo’s confirmation vote, “one of the easiest nomination decisions that I have faced.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called Pompeop “well-experienced, very well-educated, well-prepared for the task” and “passionate about keeping our nation safe within the bounds of law.”
“The new Director of the CIA must focus on uncovering facts about the many complex national security threats confronting our nation,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said in a statement after the vote. “Now is the time to turn the page on our discussions of old programs and activities, which we have thoroughly reviewed and addressed.”
Pompeo is taking over as some intelligence veterans panned President Donald Trump’s Saturday speech at the CIA, declaring it unlikely to relieve great wariness about him at the spy agency and elsewhere in the intelligence community.
Several longtime intelligence operatives said they were impressed that Trump moved so quickly to try to set things right by visiting CIA on his first full day in office. But but his unscripted boasts about the crowd size at the inauguration and his claims that the agency’s workforce supported him politically undid much of the credit he got for coming.
During Trump’s appearance at CIA headquarters Saturday, he asserted that talk of tension between himself and intelligence agencies was cooked up by the press. “I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings and they sort of made it sounds like I had a feud with the intelligence community,” the president said.
Trump’s comments struck some as strange since he has repeatedly sent Twitter messages slamming intelligence agencies, including a Jan. 11 Tweet that accused them of acting like “Nazi Germany.”
“President Trump’s speech at CIA was both highly inappropriate and frightening,” former acting director of the CIA Mike Morell said. “Instead of paying tribute to CIA’s fallen heroes like other presidents have done in front of the Agency’s Memorial Wall, Trump launched into a rambling campaign-like speech and flippantly joked about taking Iraq’s oil.”
“I could see going out to CIA to make amends, but to come out and deny you said these things and say they were manufactured by the press is insane. Not so long ago he tweeted they were Nazis,” former CIA officer Bob Baer said. “It’s just bizarre.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be forgotten,” said former CIA general counsel John Rizzo, who added that he’s hopeful for Pompeo’s tenure—largely because he may be able to rein in some of Trump’s recent provocations.
“From what I hear, folks out there who met with Pompeo, career people, are very positive about him,” said Rizzo, author of the book, “Company Man.” “How much influence he has on Trump will be key.”