The inside story on how Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo got picked for top job at the CIA

When Congressman Mike Pompeo sought out his fellow Kansan Pat Roberts in the senior lawmaker’s Capitol Hill office on Tuesday, he had a pressing question on his mind.

Sen. Roberts, a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, didn’t know why Pompeo wanted to meet.

But when Pompeo told him that the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump had asked him if he’d be interested in running the Central Intelligence Agency, Roberts wasn’t surprised.

Pompeo’s resume, Roberts said, is a natural fit for the job: A graduate of West Point and Harvard. An Army veteran. A former business executive. A vocal member of the House intelligence committee.

Roberts said Pompeo’s role briefing Mike Pence on Iran and Libya before the vice presidential debate in October had piqued the Trump team’s interest in the conservative congressman from Wichita, Kansas. (Pompeo’s office declined a request for comment.)

Now Pompeo, who knew Pence from his time in the U.S. House of Representatives, was in talks about the post of CIA director.

In a private meeting, with no staff present, Pompeo asked Roberts for his advice.

Roberts was frank: The job wouldn’t be easy. And that was an understatement.

“A lot of that comes from the territory,” Roberts told McClatchy in recounting the meeting. “If there’s a real intelligence failure, it doesn’t matter if you were really responsible for that particular failure or not. You’re in charge. It’s a situation that changes. It becomes very volatile.”

The two men talked through it, and Pompeo said he’d like to serve. He asked Roberts to put in a good word for him with the Trump transition team.

Roberts made calls to two people he knew on the team.

Pompeo also spoke to California Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a member of the Trump transition team’s executive committee who had recommended him last week for the CIA post. Nunes said he did so after gauging Pompeo’s interest in serving in a Trump administration a few days after the election.

“They had asked me for my ideas and I had asked them, ‘Well what are you looking for?’ And I said, ‘Well, it sounds like you are describing Mr. Pompeo,” Nunes said.

By the time Nunes asked Pompeo whether he might be interested in the CIA director job in particular, Pompeo had already been approached by a few other people on the transition.

On Wednesday, Pompeo met with the president-elect at Trump Tower.

He handled himself very well under questioning from Trump, Roberts said. “He was really on top of his game,” the senator said. “This is his passion, with his background in the military and national security, and that served him well.”

And it probably didn’t hurt that Pompeo is a bold and unapologetic speaker, much like Trump himself.

“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Roberts said. “There’s no dilly-dallying around or trying to go around the subject matter or making any excuse. He’s very direct, and I think without question (Trump) found that very refreshing.”

Nunes spoke to Pompeo after the interview, and Pompeo told him he thought it went really well.

“I told him, ‘Then I think you have a real chance to get this,’” Nunes said. “But of course at the end of the day the president-elect has to make the decision.”

The news broke early Friday morning that Trump had offered Pompeo the post of CIA director, and that Pompeo had accepted.

In Kansas, State Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican whose district overlaps with Pompeo’s congressional district, texted Pompeo to tell him he was praying for him.

“I need your prayers now more than ever,” Pompeo texted back.

Bryan Lowry of the Wichita Eagle contributed to this report.

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise