WASHINGTON (AFP) — Mike Pompeo, named Tuesday to be US secretary of state, comes from a one-year stint leading the Central Intelligence Agency where he earned Donald Trump’s trust delivering the president’s daily national security briefings and by toeing Trump’s line politically.
Pompeo, who replaces Rex Tillerson, brings the discipline of a former standout at West Point, the prestigious US military academy, as well as the political wiles of a four-term member of the House of Representatives, where he served on the controversial Intelligence Committee.
AS CIA director he cut a path into Trump’s inner circle with ready praise of the president, personally delivering many of the Oval Office’s crucial daily intelligence briefings.
He echoes Trump’s hard line against Iran and North Korea. But, currying the president’s favor, Pompeo has also avoided directly contradicting Trump’s insistence that Russia did not work to support his election in 2016 — even though that is what the CIA concludes.
“With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process,” Trump said Tuesday.
Pompeo, 54, has had a meteoric career that leaned heavily on political opportunities that ultimately led him to Trump.
Born and raised in southern California, he attended the US Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated top of his class in 1986, specializing in engineering.
He served in the military for five years — never in combat — and then left to attend Harvard Law School.
He later founded an engineering company in Wichita, Kansas, where financial backers included the conservative Koch brothers, oil industry billionaires and powerful movers and shakers in the Republican Party.
The Kochs backed his successful first run for Congress in 2010, and energy-related legislation he promoted in his first years in the House of Representatives was seen as very friendly to them.
He moved quickly onto the House Intelligence Committee, where, as overseer of the CIA and other agencies, he was privy to the country’s deepest secrets.
But he made his name on the special committee Republicans formed to investigate the 2012 killing of a US ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
It made him a leading voice against Trump’s political nemesis, Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state at the time was blamed by Republicans for the deaths.
Promoted a ‘vicious’ CIA
As director of the CIA, Pompeo has matched the tone of Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements.
“The CIA, to be successful, must be aggressive, vicious, unforgiving, relentless,” he said.
He joked about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which raised fears of a return to the agency’s penchant for backing assassinations of dictators not in US favor.
He earned the president’s trust in the daily national security briefings, where he has readily accommodated the president’s aversion to reading long reports by having intelligence staff prepare simple graphic presentations of global risks and threats.
When pressed in public, he has said he supports the January 2017 report by the country’s top intelligence chiefs that concludes that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential race in an effort to help Trump defeat Clinton.
Meanwhile, he has also stomached the president’s ugly attacks on the CIA, calling its report on Russia meddling fake news and accusing it of political bias.