The former soldier, congressman, businessman and CIA chief shares the president’s scepticism on Iran and the Paris accord
Lauren Gambino in Washington
After months of public disagreements with his secretary of state, Donald Trump has found someone who is “always on the same wavelength” to represent the US abroad.
The CIA director, Mike Pompeo, 54, is a former soldier, businessman and conservative congressman who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave. If confirmed by the Senate, he will become the top US diplomat in the middle of delicate negotiations with North Korea over a potential presidential meeting with dictator Kim Jong-un.
Speaking at the White House after the unceremonious firing of Rex Tillerson, Trump praised Pompeo’s “tremendous energy, tremendous intellect” and predicted that he would be a “truly great secretary of state”. He also stressed their strong rapport, a sharp contrast to his relationship with Tillerson, who reportedly called the president a “fucking moron” last summer.
“I’ve worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time – tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we’re always on the same wavelength,” Trump told reporters as he left Washington for California, where he was due to inspect prototypes for a border wall. “The relationship has been very good and that’s what I need as secretary of state.”
Pompeo graduated from both the United States Military Academy at West Point and Harvard and served three terms as a representative for Kansas’s fourth district. As a member of the House select committee on intelligence, he was an aggressive critic of US foreign policy under the Obama administration, particularly regarding the nuclear deal with Iran.
Trump cited disagreement with Tillerson regarding the Iran deal as a reason for firing the former oil executive. Tillerson supported the agreement as the best way to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Trump has denounced it as an “embarrassment to the United States” and has threatened to withdraw entirely.
In 2016, a day before Trump announced that he would nominate Pompeo to lead the CIA, the congressman tweeted: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
Pompeo is also aligned with Trump on climate change, having expressed skepticism about the extent to which humans are responsible. Pompeo has said the Paris climate accord would be a “costly burden” for the US; last year Trump announced the US would withdraw. Tillerson supported the Paris deal and pushed the president to stay.
In his army days, according to his congressional biography, Pompeo was a cavalry officer “patrolling the Iron Curtain before the fall of the Berlin Wall”. He then earned a degree from Harvard Law School before entering the private sector.
He has cultivated ties with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who are patrons of conservative causes. They invested in Thayer Aerospace, a company Pompeo started with friends from West Point in 1998. He turned to Koch Industries, the Wichita-based conglomerate which has holdings in oil and other sectors, to help bankroll his 2010 congressional race. Pompeo was criticized by liberals for hiring a Koch Industries lawyer as his chief of staff and for introducing legislation that would benefit Koch interests.
Pompeo has hawkish views on a range of policy issues, including torture, surveillance and the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
He has defended waterboarding as a interrogation tactic, arguing that it is not torture and is therefore legal. In a statement criticizing a 2014 report released by the Senate select committee on intelligence that disclosed for the first time torture practices used by the CIA, Pompeo said: “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots. The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution.”
In his confirmation hearing last year, Pompeo was asked if he would restart the CIA’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, if asked to do so by the president. “Absolutely not,” he replied.
Pompeo has said Snowden deserves the death penalty for leaking classified information to media outlets including the Guardian. He has also argued for Congress to allow domestic surveillance on a mass scale.
He has, however, diverged from Trump on Russia. In his confirmation hearing, he appeared to share with CIA staff an adversarial view of Russia and Vladimir Putin.
The Senate approved his nomination 66-32. The Democratic minority leader, Chuck Schumer, who voted to confirm Pompeo, said in a statement on Tuesday: “If he’s confirmed [as secretary of state] we hope that Mr Pompeo will turn over a new leaf and will start toughening up our policies towards Russia and Putin.”
In a statement released by the White House, Pompeo said he was “deeply grateful to President Trump for permitting me to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and for this opportunity to serve as secretary of state.
“If confirmed, I look forward to guiding the world’s finest diplomatic corps in formulating and executing the president’s foreign policy.”