We can see how CIA Director Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump would hit it off: The former is a personable guy with a lot of ambition, and the latter is someone who appreciates both the extrovert and the subordinate who sees the wisdom in managing up.
Again and again, the former Kansas congressman has distinguished himself as a Trump loyalist by throwing himself between the facts and his boss.
But particularly now that he’s maneuvered himself into having the CIA unit that’s looking into possible collusion between Russia and Team Trump report directly to him, he needs to show a lot more fidelity to the process, and to all those public servants who work for him — and for us.
After the white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, Pompeo went out of his way to defend the clarity and probity of Trump’s controversial, all-over-the-place comments.
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Last month, the director told an outright falsehood that favored the president. That happened after an NBC reporter noted that former director of National Intelligence James Clapper had said Russian meddling in our election last year “of course” cast doubt on “the legitimacy of [Trump’s] election.”
“Can you say with absolute certainty that the election results were not skewed?” the reporter asked Pompeo. That question is essentially unanswerable, since even voters themselves can’t always say what exact pieces of information (or disinformation) influenced their vote.
But Trump’s man at Langley did not let that stop him: “Yes,” he answered, “the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”
That’s what the president has repeatedly said, but what the analysis actually said was this: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
In a recent talk to Pompeo’s hometown Rotary Club in Wichita, the West Point and Harvard Law grad gushed about how much he learns from the president while personally delivering his daily intelligence briefing.
“It’s an enormously humbling time for me. I’ve done it now 100-plus times, I would guess, and it takes my breath away,’’ Pompeo said, lauding the president’s acuity, energy and “instincts that are incredible, truly. We’ve got folks that have been staring at problems an awfully long time, and he will provide insights, thinking about things in a way that we haven’t. He sends us back to the drawing board to do better, just in the way good leaders do. … This is a patriot of the most extraordinary level.”
Pompeo has embarrassed the agency he runs by meeting, at the president’s request, with a conspiracy theorist who has argued, despite the thorough debunking, including by the CIA, that the Democratic National Committee email incursion wasn’t a hack by Russia at all, but was an inside job intended to “make Trump look bad.”
And as if that weren’t enough reason for concern, The Washington Post has reported that Pompeo reorganized the CIA to make the unit looking into collusion report right to him.
His scrupulous grooming of the president’s perception of him as a true Friend of Donald seems to be working; the president is reportedly considering making him his next secretary of state if or when Rex Tillerson leaves the job.
But Pompeo needs to do a lot more to inspire public confidence. So far, he has not exactly dispelled the notion that he might be convinced to suppress facts unfavorable to the president. And his longer-term prospects for career advancement depend on his willingness to work on that.