by Ben Armbruster
It’s rare that a proponent of military confrontation who is openly hostile to a different religious belief, dismissive of climate science, seemingly supportive of torture, and unsympathetic to women’s and LGBTQ rights would be nominated to become the nation’s chief diplomat. Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next secretary of state, is all of these things. Yet, back in January 2017, the Senate did not seem to view these qualities as disqualifying for the job of CIA director.
In fact, more than a dozen members of the Senate Democratic caucus voted to confirm Pompeo back then. They may have been swayed by Pompeo’s charm during his confirmation hearing. At that time, the then-GOP congressman from Kansas politely and seemingly convincingly swatted away concerns about his bigotry toward Muslims, past defense of waterboarding, pledges to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, and other troublesome statements and policy positions Pompeo had made or taken.
But these Democrats (and one Independent) have no reason to vote for him now, especially considering how much Pompeo lied to them.
Indeed, a closer look at what Pompeo said during his January 2017 confirmation hearing reveals that much of what he promised then has no relation to what he has done as CIA director.
Take for example Pompeo’s very first pledge during that hearing was that he would provide “clear-eyed assessments free from political interference,” as Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Richard Burr described it.
Yet Pompeo has brought his politics into the job in a big way, most visibly last November when he authorized the release of thousands of documents obtained from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound purporting to demonstrate an already established and ultimately overplayed link between Iran and al-Qaeda. The move—in conjunction with an anti-Iran-deal think tank— appeared to be part of a larger coordinated effort by Trump administration officials to justify an increasingly militaristic approach to Iran.
“Pompeo is playing politics with intelligence,” former CIA analyst and Obama national security aide Ned Price said at the time, “using these files in a ploy to bolster the case against Iran by reinvigorating the debate on its terrorist ties.”
Regarding the inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion, Pompeo told Sen. Angus King (I-ME) during the hearing: “I promise I will pursue the facts wherever they take us.”
Here again, Pompeo hasn’t quite lived up to his word.
“[H]is public comments about broader Russian influence operations are mild compared to releases from U.S. agencies,” Lawfare’s Joshua Rovner noted.
Indeed, at the Aspen Security Forum last year, Pompeo appeared dismissive of the severity of what Russia had done. Russia did meddle in 2016, he said, but added, “And the one before that, and the one before that. They have been at this a hell of a long time.”
What’s perhaps even worse, Pompeo met with a conspiracy theorist, William Binney, who claimed that the hack of DNC emails during the campaign was an inside job, rather than a Russian operation. Pompeo even reportedly floated further meetings between Binney and the NSA and FBI.
And the Agency had to issue a clarification to Pompeo’s claim that the intelligence community concluded that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election had no effect on its outcome. In fact, the intel community had reached no such conclusions.
On the Iran nuclear agreement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted that the CIA has been providing the Senate Intelligence Committee with “solid analysis” on Iran’s compliance with the deal and asked about Pompeo’s past opposition to it, including a tweet in which he said he looked forward to “rolling back” the deal under Trump.
Having promised to be “rigorously objective” in assessing the agreement during his opening remarks, Pompeo assured Feinstein the tweet was old news, adding: “You have my commitment that, if I am confirmed, that the Agency will continue to evaluate their compliance with the agreement in the way you just described the Agency has been doing to date.”
But here again, Pompeo’s actions as CIA director don’t match his confirmation hearing rhetoric. In addition to politicizing the intel on Iran with the bin Laden documents release, Pompeo gave Trump cover to decertify the Iran deal back in October with a fiery anti-Iran speech, and he has been dismissive of the CIA’s own assessments that Iran is complying with the agreement.
When CIA analysts briefed Pompeo last spring on their conclusion that Iran was adhering to the deal, Pompeo disregarded the assessment. “Good,” he said, “But we know they’re cheating anyway—we’re just not seeing it.”
At the Aspen conference, he also downplayed the assessment that Iran is complying. “Iranian compliance with the nuclear deal is like a bad tenant,” Pompeo said. “They don’t pay the rent, you call them, and then they send a check and it doesn’t clear. And then the next day there’s this old, tired sofa in the front yard.”
Even on the question of diversity at the CIA, Pompeo changed course from confirmation hearing to on-the-job action.
“You have my commitment that our workforce will continue to be diverse,” Pompeo said during the hearing, later promising that his anti-LGBTQ views won’t “impact internal policies” at the Agency.
Yet, when Pompeo became CIA Director, he “publicly and privately snubbed calls for his commitment to diversity,” according to a report in Foreign Policy.
Not only did Pompeo cancel a speech during Pride month set to be delivered by Judy and Dennis Shepard — the parents of Matthew Shepard who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime attack — he didn’t even attend the intelligence community’s pride summit, episodes that reportedly “left employees disheartened.”
Pompeo also reportedly “lost his temper” during his first Agency-wide speech and meeting when employees repeatedly asked about his commitment to diversity.
Maybe it’s understandable that some Democrats voted for Pompeo more than a year ago. Despite the doom and gloom of the impending Trump administration, maybe they wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But the context has changed. Trump started to assemble a “war cabinet” anchored by Pompeo and Bolton, reckless warmongers who have no business making national-security decisions. What’s more, nearly 70 national organizations representing tens of millions of Americans just sent a letter to the Senate urging them to block Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state.
During last year’s testimony, Pompeo didn’t bother to hide his disdain for climate-change science. Given the secretary of state’s prominent role in negotiations on the topic, it’s a safe bet he’ll be asked about it again. And it’s an equally safe bet that Pompeo will suddenly become concerned about climate change. Based on his previous performances as nominee versus confirmed official, senators shouldn’t be fooled this time.
Ben Armbruster is the communications director for Win Without War and previously served as National Security Editor at ThinkProgress.