Trump’s CIA pick enters the fray

Trump’s CIA pick enters the fray
© Greg Nash

Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE’s pick to head the CIA is expected to face fierce questions about the president-elect’s outspoken criticism of intelligence officials at his confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Rep. Mike Pompeo’s (R-Kan.) testimony will come under the shadow of a supercharged feud between Trump and the intelligence community, which has concluded that Moscow sought to influence the presidential election in his favor.

Every answer and question will be watched closely by Team Trump, and also by the CIA.

“Every TV set at Langley will be turned on during his confirmation hearings,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden said in a recent op-ed.

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Trump ripped the intelligence community at a Wednesday press conference, suggesting without evidence that it was responsible for the leak of a dossier published by Buzzfeed News composed of allegations against Trump and his associates. He also appeared to blame the intelligence community for a separate CNN report that said he had been brief about reports that Russian agents claimed to have personal and business information they could use against them.

Trump said none of the information should have been reported and compared the disclosure to “something that Nazi Germany would have done.”

Trump has previously rankled intelligence officials by casting doubt on their suspicions of Russian involvement in the election.

Intelligence officials have expressed alarm over Trump’s overall attitude toward the CIA, arguing that his repeated criticism could foreshadow a broken relationship between the agency and the White House.

The last sitting member of Congress to take the helm of the CIA, Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), resigned under intense pressure amidst a fierce governmental turf battle. Democrats at the time accused the George W. Bush appointee of destroying agency morale and driving out career professionals.

Republicans have downplayed reports of damaged morale in the intelligence community, arguing that rank-and-file officials are “excited” about the incoming administration.

“[Pompeo] is a very affable guy, he gets along with people, he’s a team builder — I think Pompeo will quickly be one of the go-to guys for the president-elect,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Pompeo himself has been silent since his appointment was announced.

Other Trump nominees — like his pick for secretary of State, Rex Tillerson — have raised eyebrows in confirmation hearings over their ties to Russia. But that issue appears poised to take a backseat Thursday to the larger debate over Trump’s relationship to the agency.

“Pompeo is clearly a Russia hawk,” Nunes said. “You’re not going to find a tougher guy than Mike Pompeo in this issue.”

Pompeo — a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a former cavalry officer — will also face questioning on some of his more hawkish positions on surveillance and enhanced interrogation.

For years, he has been fiercely critical of any attempt to rein in some of the more controversial post-9/11 counterterrorism policies.

From his post on the Intelligence Committee, he has pushed for a return to the bulk collection of U.S. call data curtailed by Congress last year and has condemned new Obama administration rules limiting government interrogators to techniques in the Army Field Manual.

Pompeo has sparred publicly with Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinKids confront Feinstein over Green New Deal Feinstein says she thinks Biden will run after meeting with him Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao seeks to clarify past remarks on date rape MORE (D-Calif.) over the issue, while the panel’s most outspoken civil liberties advocate, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules | Chamber launching ad blitz against Trump drug plan | Google offers help to dispose of opioids Top Dems call for end to Medicaid work rules after 18,000 lose coverage in Arkansas Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Drug pricing fight centers on insulin | Florida governor working with Trump to import cheaper drugs | Dems blast proposed ObamaCare changes MORE (D-Ore.), has called his stance “deeply troubling.”

Feinstein has said Pompeo was “absolutely wrong” when he argued that some of the techniques formerly used by the CIA that were deemed torture — like waterboarding and sleep deprivation — were within the law.

“I plan to speak with Congressman Pompeo about this issue during his confirmation process,” Feinstein said in a November statement, according to multiple sources.

Also likely to come under scrutiny is Pompeo’s full-throated endorsement of beefing up the government’s surveillance capabilities.

In a January op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, he called for Congress to re-establish the collection of all metadata and “combin[e] it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.”

“Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed,” he wrote.

Horrified civil liberties advocates say his position raises serious concerns about privacy and due process.

But it’s unlikely that any of those concerns will stand in the way of Pompeo’s ultimate confirmation.

Democrats are focusing their attacks on eight nominees — and the Kansas congressman is not on the list.

Despite a reputation for partisanship — which critics say was on display during his relentless questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDem strategist says Clinton ‘absolutely’ has a role to play in 2020 Left-leaning journalist: Sanders would be 'formidable candidate' against Trump Clinton hits EPA for approval of pesticide dump: ‘We need bees!’ MORE during her Benghazi Committee testimony — the conservative firebrand is widely seen as a hard-working lawmaker with a strong grasp of policy.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDems press Barr to make Mueller report public Schiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE (D-Calif.) has characterized Pompeo as “a solid pick” and “a very capable choice.”

“While we have had our share of strong differences — principally on the politicization of the tragedy in Benghazi — I know that he is someone who is willing to listen and engage, both key qualities in a CIA Director,” Schiff said in a statement.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Trump pushes to speed up 5G rollout | Judge hits Roger Stone with full gag order | Google ends forced arbitration | Advertisers leave YouTube after report on pedophile ring Warner questions health care groups on cybersecurity Cohen to testify before Senate Intel on Tuesday MORE (D-Va.) reacted mildly to Trump’s selection of Pompeo in November, praising him for having a “firsthand appreciation for Congress’ responsibility to provide vigilant oversight of our nation’s intelligence activities.”

His relatively moderate response left more hard-line critics of Pompeo gloomy about their chances of blocking him.

Pompeo’s hearing was originally scheduled for Wednesday morning, but was postponed to Thursday as part of negotiations to slow the breakneck pace of confirmation hearings initially scheduled for that day, according to a Senate Democratic aide.