Senate confirms Trump nominee Mike Pompeo as CIA director, amid furore over Russian meddling in election

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:24pm

The US Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the CIA despite some Democratic objections that Representative Mike Pompeo has been less than transparent about his positions on torture, surveillance and Russia’s meddling in the US election.

The vote was 66-32. Pompeo was sworn in by Vice-President Mike Pence later Monday evening.

Pompeo takes the helm at the nation’s top spy agency at a crucial time for US national security as intelligence — traditionally a nonpartisan issue — has been thrust into the political arena. Trump has been critical of intelligence agencies after their assessment of Russian involvement to help him win the election while the new president also has said he is fully behind them.

Senate Republicans had hoped to vote on Pompeo’s nomination Friday, after Trump’s inauguration. But Democrats succeeded in stalling action until they could debate.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden on Monday said Pompeo was the “wrong man for the job.”

“He has endorsed extreme policies that would fundamentally erode liberties and freedoms of our people without making us safer,” Wyden said. He said Pompeo’s answers to questions from some senators have been “vague” and “contradictory,” making it impossible to know what Pompeo believes.

“I see no real commitment to transparency and his views on the most fundamental analysis of the day - the involvement of Russia in our election - seemed to shift with those of the president,” Wyden said.

In written responses to questions from the Senate, on January 3, Pompeo said only that intelligence agency assessments in general should be taken seriously. After Trump conceded Russia was behind the campaign hacks, Pompeo on January 12 told the Senate intelligence committee that particular assessment was “solid”.

“We need a CIA director who is direct about his beliefs and his assessments,” Wyden said.

Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said Democrats were playing politics in its efforts to delay and derail Trump’s choice to run the CIA.

One of Trump’s first stops as president was at the CIA’s headquarters in Northern Virginia on Saturday where he made a speech that focused more on falsely accusing the media of lying about how many people attended his inauguration than on the role the CIA plays protecting the US.

Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents Saturday, Trump assured intelligence officials, “I am so behind you.” He made no mention of his repeated criticism of the intelligence agencies following the election, including his public challenges of their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the White House race to help him win.

In its final days, Barack Obama’s administration announced intelligence findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election with the goal of getting Trump elected. Trump himself has denied most of the assessment, though eventually conceded Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails during the campaign.

Pompeo, a conservative Republican from Kansas and a member of the House intelligence committee, faced a mostly friendly confirmation hearing on January 12.

He enrolled as a teenager at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, and graduated first in his class in 1986. He served in the Army at a time when the Soviet Union was America’s No 1 adversary.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meanwhile on Monday approved Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state, clearing the way for the full Senate to confirm one of President Trump’s most critical cabinet choices.

The 11-10 vote fell along party lines with Democrats in dissent. It came hours after Senator Marco Rubio, who had been the lone Republican withholding his support, said he would back the nomination of the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive officer as the nation’s top diplomat despite concerns over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal in his nomination hearing to condemn human rights abuses in Russia and the Philippines.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg