Donald Trump has selected Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA, the president-elect announced Friday morning.
Pompeo is a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate and a vocal member of the House Select Committee on intelligence. He’s been a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s policies on Iran and Libya.
“He has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens,” Trump said in a statement. “He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies.”
Pompeo, a three-term congressman from Wichita, said he’s “honored to have been given this opportunity to serve and to work alongside President-elect Donald J. Trump to keep America safe.”
“I also look forward to working with America’s intelligence warriors, who do so much to protect Americans each and every day,” Pompeo said.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Pompeo will lead a sprawling agency of 21,500 employees and an annual budget of $15 billion.
The agency came under scrutiny in recent years for its controversial interrogation practices of terrorism suspects, but Trump has said that he approves the use of such methods, including waterboarding.
Pompeo will have to answer questions about the issue when the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence holds hearings on his nomination.
In a statement after the 2014 release of the Senate’s report on the CIA’s interrogation practices, Pompeo said they were lawful, and sharply criticized the report’s author, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution, and conducted with the full knowledge Senator Feinstein,” he said then. “If any individual did operate outside of the program’s legal framework, I would expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Feinstein, who’s set to become ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, was traveling Friday morning could not be immediately reached to comment.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, himself a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recommended Pompeo to Trump’s transition team.
“Rep. Pompeo has had the kind of military and private sector experience commensurate with the demands of a CIA Director,” Roberts said in a statement. “Since he began his service on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, intelligence issues have become his passion.”
Pompeo has also served on the special House committee that investigated the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The committee’s report came down hard on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on whose watch the attack occurred. Pompeo co-authored a separate report that accused Clinton of downplaying the attack because President Barack Obama was up for re-election that fall.
In a statement Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the most senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised Pompeo but noted their differences on Benghazi.
“Mike is very bright and hard-working and will devote himself to helping the Agency develop the best possible intelligence for policy makers,” Schiff said. “While we have had our share of strong differences – principally on the politicization of the tragedy in Benghazi – I know that he is someone who is willing to listen and engage, both key qualities in a CIA director.”
The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, predicted that Pompeo would be embraced by CIA employees and easily confirmed by the Senate.
“One of the most respected voices in the House of Representatives on national security issues, Mike will undoubtedly develop a close working relationship with Congress in his new post,” Nunes said. “I am confident his nomination will be widely supported within the CIA, and I look forward to his fast approval by the Senate.”
Trump offered the CIA directorship to Pompeo and the job of attorney general to Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Both positions require Senate confirmation. Trump also selected Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn to be his top national security adviser.
“Mike has a great background, specifically intelligence and military background,” said Kansas Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold. “He would be a great asset to the Trump administration.”
Pompeo originally supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid. Like most of his Kansas colleagues, Pompeo backed Trump when it was clear the New York real-estate developer would become the Republican presidential nominee, though not enthusiastically.
But Pompeo was close to Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who served with Pompeo in the House. Last month, Pompeo helped prepare Pence for the vice presidential debate with Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
The most prominent Kansas elected official to endorse Trump early on was Secretary of State Kris Kobach, now a member of the Trump transition team who was considered a possible candidate for U.S. attorney general.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and recently defeated Rep. Tim Huelskamp are both potential picks for agriculture secretary.
He’s a supporter of the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk data collection program and sought to restore the agency’s access to the data it had already collected under the Patriot Act from its inception through late last year.
Pompeo is also one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Pompeo, who grew up in the traditionally Republican enclave of Orange County, California, founded Thayer Aerospace, a company that made parts for commercial and military aircraft. After selling Thayer, he became president of Sentry International, a company that manufactures and sells equipment used in oil fields.
He was elected to Congress in 2010 on a wave of tea party support and with backing from the Koch Industries political action committee. The Wichita-based conglomerate’s PAC is well known for its support of conservative candidates.
Though Pompeo is generally known for his opposition to Obama administration policies, he’s occasionally given heat to some fellow Republicans. Last year, his name was floated as a potential rival to Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to become House speaker.
Earlier this year, he briefly flirted with a primary challenge to Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran after the state’s junior senator appeared to break with Senate Republican opposition to Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland.
Joe Romance, an associate professor of political science at Fort Hays State University, said it makes sense for Pompeo to consider a job in the executive branch, given the way the stage is set from Kansas to Washington in the next several years.
“He’s ambitious,” Romance said. “Jerry Moran just got reelected. Roberts is not up until 2020. So where do you need to move? And I don’t think Ryan’s going anywhere as speaker. So why not?”
Bryan Lowry of the Wichita Eagle reported from Wichita.