During his confirmation hearing, Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) said he would observe the proper laws forbidding enhanced interrogation of terror suspects and affirmed that he believes Russia is a threat to the United States. He also noted, however, that attempts to undermine President-elect Donald Trump plays right into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate held its first hearing for the confirmation of Rep. Pompeo, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to become CIA chief. While the hearing kicked off with a temporary power outage in the room, the congressman fielded a range of questions from metadata, to CIA-sponsored torture, to privacy concerns. One senator, California’s Kamala Harris, even went off on a tangent asking Pompeo about NASA global warming data and Pompeo’s views on gay marriage.
When it came time to talk about Russia, though, Pompeo had a dual warning.
The Kansan said that Russia is not an ally of the United States, but also insisted that attempts to invalidate Donald Trump’s presidency is serving the anti-American policies of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Agreeing with the U.S. intelligence community’s latest assessment of Russia, Pompeo also said it is “pretty clear” that the Russians tried to influence the U.S. elections.
“It’s pretty clear about what took place here, about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and to have impact on American democracy,” Pompeo said during the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting. “I’m very clear-eyed about what that intelligence report says. This was an aggressive action taken by the senior leadership inside of Russia.”
Pompeo also said he would support an extensive investigation into just what forms that “aggressive action” took during the 2016 campaign saying, “I will continue to pursue foreign intelligence with vigor no matter where the facts lead.”
“The internet,” Pompeo said, “is a borderless, global environment, easily and frequently exploited by sophisticated adversaries like China and Russia, as well as by less sophisticated adversaries like Iran and North Korea, non-state actors, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and hackers.”
He also warned though that constant speculation that the election was hacked plays into Putin’s hands. During his response on the matter he said he has “no doubt that the discourse that’s been taking place is something Putin would look at and say, ‘That was among the objectives that I have.'”
As for another topic, many liberals have worried about Pompeo’s thoughts on the CIA using enhanced interrogation. The question seemed fairly answered when Senators Feinstein and Heinrich both quizzed him on the topic. Pompeo told Feinstein he would not re-start the enhanced interrogation policy if he were to become head of the CIA and assured Senator Heinrich that he would stick to the Army field manual for interrogation that currently forbids such techniques.
As to Iran, Pompeo said that despite his personal opinions and his past claims that he would work to repeal Obama’s “disastrous deal” with Iran, he would abide by whatever his President told him to do on the issue.
The congressman also fielded questions about his past comments on gathering metadata. While noting that intelligence is the “lifeblood” of national security, he added that such intel “is more in demand than ever.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that metadata is not private personal information, but nonetheless Pompeo said he would certainly toe the line of the law — whatever that may be — on the collection of data.
He was also asked for his thoughts on demanding that tech companies give the U.S. government keys to their encryption of data. Pompeo replied that personal privacy would be an important concern for him and added, “I think we need to acknowledge that encryption is out there, and not all encryption takes place in the United States,” Pompeo replied.
But even as Pompeo said he’d toe the law on these matters, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn asked Pompeo if he will “play to the edge” of the law as CIA director so as not to play too cautious with national security. The Congressman said he would be sure to be mindful of the needs of his operatives and added, “It’s my role to make sure those lines are clear and bright.”
Pompeo also faced questioning from California Democrat Kamala Harris who seemed to feel his stance against gay marriage would hamper his work to secure the nation. She also quizzed him on global warming, asking if he would accept climate change claims made by NASA.
Seemingly bemused by the quixotic line of questioning, Pompeo assured Harris that as a small businessman he’s never let anyone’s sexuality interfere in what he expected of them as an employee and that, as an engineer by training, facts and data drive his life – so if he found believable data on climate change it would certainly be an important consideration in his thought process.
The hearing was not without humor, either, as Arizona Republican John McCain, a graduate of the Naval Academy, joked that Pompeo’s education was “very poor” because he was a graduate of West Point.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.