President-elect Donald Trump picked Representative Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, selecting an ardent critic of Hillary Clinton’s actions in Libya and a supporter of beefed-up government surveillance.
“He has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens,” Trump said in a statement Friday. “He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies.”
Pompeo, a Kansas Republican first elected to Congress in 2010 with the backing of the Tea Party movement, serves on the Intelligence Committee and during the 114th Congress was on the Select Committee on Benghazi — a panel formed to investigate the 2012 deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in an attack on a diplomatic outpost. He also opposes President Barack Obama’s push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
The 52-year-old Pompeo is a “serious man” who carefully studies the issues he is responsible for, former Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden said on Friday. “When I saw the choice, I was heartened,” he added.
He is also a harsh critic of what he calls Washington’s “blunting” or “dumbing down” of its surveillance powers. In a January post on his website, he wrote that the intelligence community “feels beleaguered and bereft of political support.” The comments fleshed out statements he made against critics of the Patriot Act in a 2015 speech to the Hudson Institute.
“The attacks and criticisms of the Patriot Act are often comically shallow, but dressed up in the language of a faux-conception of ‘freedom’ that must delight our enemies,” he said.
At a hearing in 2014, Pompeo peppered current CIA Director John Brennan with questions about whether suspected terrorists, such as the ones who carried out the Benghazi attack, should be questioned by military or intelligence personnel for a long time, rather than being handed over to civilian authorities and read their Miranda rights.
“The last time we brought a bad guy out, a 20-year al-Qaeda senior leader out of Libya, who had lots of information about terrorists all around the world, in a matter of days, he was returned to the United States, and had a set of lawyers, and I am confident, was read his Miranda rights,” Pompeo asked Brennan. “Do you think we lost the opportunity to gain intelligence that we could have, had we handled this enemy combatant in a different way?”
His views have often drawn the ire of others in the foreign policy community.
“Mr. Pompeo is literally an extremist,” said Steven Aftergood, a director at the Federation of American Scientists. “He has staked out extreme positions on intelligence surveillance, interrogation, and other areas that deviate from the mainstream consensus.”
Pompeo has has been a vocal opponent of the Obama administration’s desire to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and is also against the nuclear deal with Iran. On his website, he says he’s ‘fighting hard to keep terrorists out of Kansas and America.”
On Thursday, Pompeo sent a tweet saying he looked forward to “rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
As a member of the politically charged Benghazi committee, Pompeo was one of the most visible and vocal detractors of former Secretary of State Clinton. Along with Representative Jim Jordan, he even disagreed sharply with the committee’s chairman, Trey Gowdy, on a final analysis and report into the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 attacks.
After the committee concluded its work, Pompeo and Jordan took the step of writing an “Additional View” analysis to the report that took a more critical stance on the actions of the administration.
In one of their key differences, they wrote: “We cannot say with certainty that our nation’s leaders did not move heaven and earth to send military help with the urgency that those Americans deserved. We will never know if a more vigorous, comprehensive and urgent response could have saved lives.”
Pompeo called Clinton’s leadership at the State Department “morally reprehensible.” He said during a news conference that “you have every right to be disgusted” by the response from her and others, which he added includes misleading the public.
That was much further than Gowdy, the committee chairman, ventured. Gowdy responded that no such language or assertions is contained in the full-committee’s final report. Pressed if he believed Clinton lied, Gowdy responded, “You don’t see that T-shirt on me, you haven’t seen that bumper sticker on any of my vehicles.”
Pompeo’s appointment may make it more awkward for Trump to keep FBI Director James Comey in his job. Pompeo blasted Comey over his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private e-mail server.
“There’s no doubt he has done enormous damage to the reputation of the FBI,” Pompeo said of Comey on Fox News on Oct. 5, weeks before Comey decided to revisit the case after new e-mails linked to Clinton were found. “We’ve watched an investigation that I think all of us wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. But that has not been earned today.”
According to his biography, Pompeo graduated first in his class from West Point in 1986 and then served as a cavalry officer in Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall. After leaving active duty, Pompeo graduated from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.