President-elect Donald Trump announced on Friday that he’s appointing Rep. Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Pompeo is a partisan Republican, but during the Republican primary he supported Marco Rubio and was by no means a Trump loyalist. This aspect of his appointment seems like good news for anyone who feared that the Trump cabinet would exclusively be stacked with cronies, as one report from a prominent conservative foreign policy thinker indicated.
In fact, former CIA operative Evan McMullin—who mounted a conservative general election challenge to Trump focused on the state of Utah—backed the appointment. “[Mike Pompeo] is a good pick for CIA. He's very smart, has already served our nation, actively seeks new information, & is strong-willed,” McMullin wrote.
Pompeo was a vocal member of the House Intelligence Committee and the House Select Committee on Benghazi. He went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Law School and was an editor the Harvard Law Review. He was in the Army, and the New York Times reported that his website says he “served as an officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
There are a few areas of criticism that might come up from Democrats during confirmation hearing.
First, he once said that Muslim leaders could be “complicit” in terrorism if they didn’t condemn it sufficiently.
"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," the Kansas representative said in 2013. "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."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations characterized these remarks as “false and irresponsible.”
He has indicated a greater ability to distinguish ordinary Muslims from militant Islamists than his soon-to-be-boss, though. Last year after a trip to the Middle East, Pompeo warned against conflating Muslims with extremists.
“You don’t find many Thomas Jeffersons over there,” Pompeo said. “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 good will and despise this extremism as much as anyone of any other faith.”
In terms of the world's recent military conflicts, Pompeo was a hard-liner on Syria, bucking his party and supporting President Barack Obama’s request to use military force in that country. (The vote was eventually dropped after the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement on Syrian chemical weapons.)
In calling for support of Obama’s military force request, Pompeo was harshly critical of Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict and of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
“Russia continues to side with … rogue states and terrorist organizations, following Vladimir Putin’s pattern of gratuitous and unpunished affronts to U.S. interests,” he wrote in the Washington Post.
Pompeo was also one of the most outspoken critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack and its aftermath, earlier this year releasing with another congressman his own supplement to the Benghazi committee’s report that accused Hillary Clinton of intentionally misleading the public about what happened in the attack for political reasons. Various bipartisan and Republican investigations did not reach a similar conclusion. He also once incorrectly claimed that Clinton had relied on Sidney Blumenthal for “most of her intelligence” when she was secretary of State.
Finally, Pompeo is a major backer of an increased surveillance state, pushing for Congress to roll back reforms limiting the mass collection of metadata. “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed,” he has argued in the Wall Street Journal.
On top of that, Pompeo called for the death penalty for Edward Snowden, accusing him of treason and of handing over information to foreign powers that put American lives at risk. "He should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence," he said.
Snowden, who revealed the National Security Agency’s mass metadata collection program publically and has been sheltered in Russia ever since, had access to—as Pompeo put it—“detailed information about America's intelligence sources and methods” beyond information he has released about "telecommunications or the privacy rights of Americans." Pompeo has suggested that Snowden handed such information over to foreign enemies.