WASHINGTON — Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s pick to be director of the CIA, is a hard-line Republican congressman who shares the president-elect’s pugnacious worldview and, like Trump, spent years as a businessman before becoming a politician.
Pompeo has heavily criticized the landmark Iran nuclear deal, blasted Hillary Clinton over the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya and her use of a private email server, and believes Edward Snowden is a traitor who deserves a death sentence. He also supports restoring the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata, a contentious terror-fighting tool Congress eliminated after Snowden’s revelations.
Before taking over the spy agency, the Kansas lawmaker has to be confirmed by the GOP-led Senate. One issue that could dominate the confirmation hearing is Pompeo’s view on using harsh interrogation techniques on detainees. Trump has backed these techniques, saying, “We should go tougher than waterboarding,” which simulates drowning.
During the campaign, Trump suggested that he would push to change laws that prohibit waterboarding and other harsh techniques. He said that banning those methods puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage against Islamic State militants.
Pompeo two years ago rejected accusations that U.S. intelligence and military personnel were “torturers” for harshly interrogating terror suspects captured after 9/11. “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,” Pompeo said in 2014 after the Senate released its report on the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA.
In a statement Friday, Pompeo said he was “honored and humbled” to accept Trump’s nomination. He called the decision to leave Congress difficult but said the “opportunity to lead the world’s finest intelligence warriors” is a call to service that he could not ignore.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, who will be the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence committee beginning in January, said in a statement that he would vigorously oversee the CIA to ensure it adheres “to America’s principles and international obligations.”
Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, said Friday he was “heartened” by Trump’s decision to pick Pompeo, calling him a “serious man.”
Pompeo, 52, was elected to Congress during the tea party wave of 2010. He served on the House Select Benghazi Committee to probe the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The panel’s final report this summer sharply criticized the Obama administration for a series of mistakes but produced no new evidence pointing to wrongdoing by Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time.
Pompeo and fellow Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, however, issued a separate report slamming Clinton and the administration. Pompeo called the former first lady and senator “morally reprehensible.”
He also has been a fierce critic of the nuclear deal with Iran that President Barack Obama has championed. The accord granted Tehran sanctions relief for rolling back its nuclear weapons program. Pompeo has said Muslim leaders are “potentially complicit” in terrorist attacks if they do not denounce violence carried out in the name of Islam.
“They must cite the Quran as evidence that the murder of innocents is not permitted,” he said in a 2013 House floor speech.
A member of the House intelligence committee, Pompeo denounced Snowden, a former NSA contractor who stole and leaked highly classified documents to journalists, revealing the agency’s program for gathering the phone records of millions of Americans.
During an appearance on C-SPAN in February, Pompeo said Snowden should receive the death penalty for his actions.
“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,” Pompeo said.
Snowden, who spoke Friday from Moscow via a video link during an event of the Norwegian chapter of PEN in Oslo, Norway, criticized Pompeo’s selection to lead the spy agency. “In my country, the new CIA director believes dissidents should be put to death,” Snowden said.
Pompeo also has fought against Obama’s attempts to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and opposed moving prisoners to the U.S., including Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. He has maintained the detainees at Guantanamo are well taken care off and in May 2013 downplayed the extent of a hunger strike by prisoners. Pompeo, appearing on MSNBC, said it looked to him like they had put on weight.
Pompeo was born in Orange, California, and lives in Wichita, Kansas. He enrolled as a teenager at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated first in his class in 1986. According to biographical information on his House web site, Pompeo served as a “cavalry officer patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and was editor of the Harvard Law Review.
After college, he set up Thayer Aerospace and was its chief executive officer for more than 10 years. Later he was president of Sentry International, a company that sold equipment for oil fields and manufacturing.
Associated Press writers Jack Gillum and Matthew Daly and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.