This post has been updated now that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been fired and Pompeo has been chosen to replace him.
In October, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with the purveyor of a disputed theory about the Democratic National Committee emails released during the 2016 presidential campaign — a theory that ran counter to the intelligence community's long-standing conclusions about the matter.
It was hardly the first example of Pompeo doing something strange. But there has been a common thread running through just about every example: Pompeo doing and saying questionable things involving Russia — and those questionable things tending to align with President Trump.
Pompeo's history of conspicuously pro-Trump moves from his perch at Langley are likely to come under a microscope now that he's Trump's pick to succeed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom Trump ousted Tuesday.
In announcing Pompeo's elevation, Trump alluded to his and Pompeo's being more like-minded, saying Pompeo has “tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we're always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good.”
Perhaps the most high-profile example was Pompeo's meeting with William Binney, a former intelligence official who has argued that the DNC hack wasn't a hack at all, but rather a leak from within. Binney, of course, isn't the only one who has cast doubt on the intelligence community's conclusions; so, too, has Trump, who has at times suggested that the very idea that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign was “fake news.”
And the kicker in the Intercept's story is that Trump, according to Binney and another source, just so happens to be the one who suggested the meeting:
In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said.
The meeting was confirmed by two other sources, while the CIA declined to comment on Pompeo's schedule, as it generally does.
Dean Boyd, a spokesman in the CIA's office of public affairs, told The Washington Post: “The director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment.” Pompeo has said in public hearings that he thinks Russia was behind the hacking.
The implications here are pretty big: A U.S. president telling his CIA director to meet with someone pitching what the intelligence community basically regards as a conspiracy theory. The intelligence community's report on Russian interference, from way back in January, is clear that it thinks this was a hack.
Binney is a former official at the National Security Agency (NSA) who later became a whistleblower and now belongs to Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former intelligence officials who are skeptical of the intelligence community's conclusions. The appeal of Binney's theory to Trump is clear: It suggests that Russia's interference wasn't nearly so broad or influential as the intelligence community contends.
And that's where it ties in nicely with Pompeo's other recent controversies.
At an event earlier in October, Pompeo made a highly curious remark, saying that “the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.” This mirrored a talking point previously offered by Trump and the White House — one that persists, despite being categorically false. The intelligence report said clearly that it wouldn't weigh in on how much of an impact Russia may have had, not that it didn't have an impact.
That may have been a slip of the tongue from an amateur. But how the CIA director, of all people, could get something of such importance — something that for him should be basic knowledge — so wrong sure seemed odd.
Separately, Pompeo has also drawn scrutiny for making an agency unit deeply involved in investigating possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia — the Counterintelligence Mission Center — report directly to him, as the The Post's Greg Miller reported. And previously, Axios reported that he was among the Trump administration officials whom the White House had enlisted to beat back a New York Times article about Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
All along, intelligence officials have expressed concern about the possible politicization of Pompeo's job. Pompeo's use of a Trump talking point last month and his meeting with a high-profile skeptic of the intelligence community's conclusions at Trump's request sure won't tamp down those concerns. Now we'll see how interested some Republican senators are in pressing him on the subject.