When newly sworn-in President Donald Trump tours CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on Saturday afternoon, the man he picked to lead the agency will not yet be in charge.
The war between Trump and the CIA boiled over into the U.S. Senate on Inauguration Day, as Republicans slammed Democrats for delaying the installation of Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo as Trump’s new spy chief.
The CIA has been locked in a battle with Trump over allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind an effort to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Partisan wrangling over the CIA post just hours after Trump took the oath of office showed how politicized the agency has become.
As a result, Pompeo will spend at least one more weekend representing Kansas’ 4th Congressional District.
Former President Barack Obama’s appointee, John Brennan, resigned as director of the CIA effective at noon Friday. The CIA’s deputy director also stepped down.
For now, the CIA has delegated authority to the agency’s executive director, Meroe Park.
Park, the No. 3 in the CIA’s hierarchy, is in charge of the agency until a permanent director and deputy director take the helm. Park is a career CIA official, not a political appointee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blamed Senate Democrats for blocking a confirmation vote for Pompeo and leaving the CIA leaderless. The vote had been expected to happen Friday, after Trump’s swearing-in as the 45th president.
“We live in dangerous times” and it’s critical for the president to have a national security team in place by day one, McConnell said.
“That includes, in particular, the director of the CIA,” he said. “It makes no sense to leave the post open. Not for another week, not for another day, not for another hour. America’s enemies will not pause in plotting, planning and training just because the Democrats refuse to vote.”
McConnell tried to call for Pompeo’s confirmation by unanimous consent Friday, but Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon objected.
McConnell agreed to give Democrats six hours to debate Pompeo’s fate on Monday.
As Wyden pointed out, the Senate has never confirmed a CIA director on Inauguration Day. Leon Panetta, for example, was sworn in on Feb. 13, 2009, several weeks after Obama’s inauguration.
Wyden and his fellow Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut joined forces Friday to oppose what they said was “a rushed confirmation” of Pompeo.
“The importance of the position of CIA director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated,” the senators said in a statement.
They said the CIA could protect the nation “under the leadership of its senior professional personnel” until Pompeo could be confirmed.
“Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees,” the senators said. “Our constituents expect Congress to be a check and balance on the incoming administration, not a rubber stamp.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had asked Vice President Mike Pence to keep Brennan on the job over the weekend, Matt House, a spokesman for Schumer, said in a statement.
“Just as Director (Michael) Hayden served as a bridge between the Bush and Obama presidencies eight years ago, Director Brennan could play the same role for the incoming and outgoing administrations, if the president is willing to keep him on,” House said.
Republicans were not pleased.
“Smoke and mirrors while they obstruct President Trump 2.5 hours into his administration, on national security of all things,” McConnell spokesman David Popp said.
In a floor speech Friday, Wyden listed several concerns he had with Pompeo, especially statements supporting the collection of “lifestyle” information on U.S. citizens, and said it was best not to rush confirmation.
Wyden agreed it’s a dangerous time – “that’s not up for debate” – but said the CIA already had career leaders in place to take charge in case of a “tragedy tonight or tomorrow.”
Even if Pompeo were confirmed today, he said, he’d be reliant on veteran CIA personnel to guide him in case of an attack within days.
“We would still be relying on those trained, talented professionals at the CIA,” he said.
Wyden said he and other members of the committee agreed that there needed to be discussion of Pompeo’s qualifications.
“We just believe there ought to be some debate,” Wyden said. “There hasn’t been any in the Intelligence Committee, there hasn’t been any on the floor.”
“I think we ought to have a debate in broad daylight – not when senators are trying to figure out if their tuxes are going to fit,” he added.
Brennan and Trump have been engaged in a bitter war of words since Jan. 11, when Trump tweeted that he believes the intelligence community was behind the leak of a once-secret dossier by a retired British spy containing unconfirmed allegations of Russian influence on the Trump campaign.
“Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Trump tweeted.
Brennan, ending a 30-year CIA career with the last four years as the agency’s director, responded angrily in a television interview last Sunday, noting that 117 CIA agents have been killed in the line of service and saying he found it “very repugnant” to cast them as akin to Nazis.
Hours later, Trump continued with the feud, blaming Brennan for what he considers a series of foreign policy disasters and suggesting that Brennan bore responsibility for leaking the dossier to the press. He tweeted that evening that Brennan “couldn’t do much worse – just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?”