National Security

Russia likely to be the elephant in the room during Pompeo’s CIA hearing

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo will have his turn in the confirmation spotlight on Thursday as the Senate Intelligence Committee takes up his nomination to be CIA director.

The questions will almost certainly turn on what he thinks about Russia’s hacking activities and how he’d lead an agency President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized.

Pompeo is a three-term Republican congressman from Wichita who’s a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law. He served as an Army officer in Europe during the Cold War, and that experience profoundly shaped his views of the world.

“I saw it up close and personal,” Pompeo said in a 2014 Kansas TV interview. “You could watch where freedom was on one side and it wasn’t on the other.”

Pompeo was talking, of course, about the border between the former Soviet empire and western Europe, a boundary that no longer exists. But in recent years, the relationship between the United States and Russia has become increasingly frayed.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are very likely to ask Pompeo about Russia’s involvement in hacking the Democratic National Committee and accusations that it did so to sway the outcome of the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor.

While Trump has praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin and has talked about easing economic sanctions against Russia, Pompeo has said the opposite. In the 2014 TV interview, Pompeo said the U.S. and its allies should use economic sanctions to keep Putin “in his box.”

“I think we have a lot to worry about with Vladimir Putin,” he said then.

Pompeo, a member of the House Intelligence Committee who’s known for his outspoken criticism of the foreign policy of President Barack Obama, has been uncharacteristically quiet since Trump nominated him in November.

Meanwhile, Trump has dismissed the CIA’s probe of Russian hacking and urged Americans to move on.

But not everyone is willing to let it go, even Republicans. On Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that Russia had been successful in an effort to “sow chaos” in the U.S. presidential election. Rubio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, worried that the next step might be for the Kremlin to embarrass or discredit a U.S. lawmaker whose policy positions it doesn’t like.

“Is that not a tactic they have used to discredit individual political figures?” elsewhere in the world, Rubio asked James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. “And isn’t it true that that could very well happen here in the United States?”

Many had anticipated tough questions for Pompeo from California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a former chairman of the committee. But Feinstein had a pacemaker installed on Tuesday, and she may be absent from the hearing.

Under Feinstein’s leadership, the committee produced a report on the CIA’s controversial interrogation practices for terrorism suspects.

Pompeo had criticized the Senate report and defended the techniques, and the men and women who’d been tasked with carrying them out. The report concluded that the enhanced interrogations, including waterboarding, were unconstitutional.

In November, Feinstein said Pompeo was “absolutely wrong” and said she planned to ask him about the issue during his confirmation.

A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the House committee on which Pompeo has served.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis