KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Rep. Mike Pompeo Questioned By Senate Panel In Bid To Become CIA Director

Jan 12, 2017
Originally published on January 12, 2017 4:22 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

President-elect Donald Trump has picked a conservative Kansas congressman to be his CIA director. Today Representative Mike Pompeo had his job interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee. It came of course amid high tensions between intelligence officials and Trump. Yesterday, Trump compared U.S. spy agencies to Nazis and claimed they leaked unverified allegations against him. NPR's David Welna has the story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: With a Harvard Law degree after graduating at the top of his class at West Point, Mike Pompeo is a big man with a long list of impressive credentials. He was an Army tank officer during the Cold War. He headed two companies in Kansas, and he's been a prominent member of the House Intelligence Committee.

But this 52-year-old engineer by training has also been a strong Republican partisan. Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr asked him if he could set politics aside and provide clear-eyed assessments to the president. Pompeo did not hesitate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: You have my commitment that every day, I will not only speak truth to power but that I will demand that the men and women who I have come to know well over these past few years who live their lives doing just that will be willing, able and follow my instructions to do that each and every day.

WELNA: Mark Warner, the panel's top Democrat, then began to break the news to Pompeo that there would be yet another probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK WARNER: Chairman Burr and I have committed to conduct a review of the intelligence supporting the Intelligence Committee's assessment that Russia, at the direction...

WELNA: Three words after Warner mentioned Russia, the lights in the hearing room went dark, and the live TV feed went dead. The panel regrouped in another hearing room where Warner picked up where he left off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WARNER: To ensure that I don't - we don't end up with a light turnout again, I won't re-do my second half of my statement.

WELNA: But Warner did ask Pompeo directly if he accepted the intelligence community's report last week accusing Russia of meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POMPEO: Senator Warner, I do. I've had one briefing. I attended the hearing - or the meeting which the president-elect was briefed. Everything I've seen suggests to me that the report has an analytical product that is sound.

WELNA: Indeed Pompeo seemed almost at pains to make clear he does not share Trump's more benign view of Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POMPEO: It's pretty clear about what took place here, about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy. I'm very clear-eyed about what that intelligence report says.

WELNA: On another hot-button issue, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein thanked Pompeo for a privately delivered apology. Pompeo in the past has strongly defended the CIA's use of waterboarding and other harsh techniques, but Feinstein today got him to publicly reject them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual, would you comply?

POMPEO: Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I can't imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect or or then-president.

WELNA: Trump has staunchly advocated using what many consider torture for interrogations. On another matter, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden pointed to an article Pompeo wrote calling on the government to get back into the business of collecting Americans' electronic metadata.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON WYDEN: I'm curious what kind of information about finances and lifestyles would you not enter into your idea of this giant database.

WELNA: Pompeo assured Wyden that while the CIA would not engage in unlawful activity...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

POMPEO: If someone's out there on their Facebook page talking about an attack or plotting an attack against America, I think you would find the director of the CIA and the intelligence community grossly negligent if they didn't pursue that information.

WELNA: Pompeo is expected to easily win Senate confirmation as the next CIA director. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.