Trump's pick for CIA chief says he wouldn't carry out orders to torture

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), Donald Trump’s pick to head the CIA, told senators at his confirmation hearing Thursday that he would not carry out orders from the White House to use torture, a position that potentially puts him at odds with the president-elect.

During his campaign last year, Trump repeatedly said he would bring back waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics that the CIA has abandoned, that President Obama labeled torture, and that now are illegal.

In a 2½-hour hearing, Pompeo repeatedly assured members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that he would not restart the CIA’s use of secret prisons and brutal interrogation tactics.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the committee, pressed Pompeo to pledge he would not do so even if ordered by Trump.

“Absolutely not,” he promised, adding, “I can’t imagine I would be asked to do that by the president-elect.”

He said he had voted for the law that restricted CIA interrogation methods to those in the Army Field Manual, and that any attempts to go beyond those guidelines would be illegal and require Congress to pass a new law.

Feinstein was one of the harshest critics of the CIA’s network of “black sites” to secretly hold terrorism suspects overseas, and its use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other harsh tactics to interrogate them in the years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The program is widely considered a dark stain on the CIA record, not least because Feinstein and other critics say the evidence shows the torture utterly failed to produce significant intelligence.

The hearing was interrupted shortly after it began when the lights suddenly went out. That led to jokes about Russian sabotage while technicians scrambled for half an hour to fix the glitch, which officials later blamed on repairs that mistakenly tripped a breaker.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), who was criticizing Russian hacking when the room went dark, joked when the lights came back, “To be sure we don’t have the lights turn out again, I won’t do the second half of my statement.”

Senate confirmation for Pompeo appears all but assured. He received largely friendly questions before the committee moved to a secure room to ask about classified matters.

During the public session, Pompeo promised repeatedly to give Trump unvarnished assessments of U.S. intelligence, even if the incoming president doesn’t like them.

Pompeo also broke with Trump when he endorsed a classified intelligence report that concludes Russian intelligence agencies hacked computers and spread fake news in an effort to help elect Trump.

The report “was sound,” said Pompeo, who joined Trump last week when four top U.S. intelligence officials briefed the president-elect.

“It’s pretty clear what took place here about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy,” Pompeo said. “I’m pretty clear-eyed about that.”

If confirmed, he said he would continue to investigate Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. political process, even if it led to problems for Trump.

“I promise you I will pursue the facts wherever they take us… with respect to this issue and with respect to every other issue,” he said.

Trump said Wednesday for the first time that he believed Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic Party computers, but he denied the subsequent leaks of thousands of emails were intended to boost his chances.

Although Trump has praised Russia for fighting Islamic State forces in Syria, Pompeo agreed with Obama administration assessments, saying Moscow is “doing nothing to engage in the defeat of ISIS,” using an acronym for the militant group.

Pompeo agreed with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the committee, that Russian-backed forces in Syria had committed war crimes by bombing civilians in Aleppo. Pompeo said Russian President Vladimir Putin probably gave the order.

As a member of Congress, Pompeo opposed the Iran deal designed to curtail the nation’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. If confirmed as CIA chief, he said, he would ensure CIA analysts have the time and resources to make “objective assessments” on the state of Iran’s compliance with the deal.

Pompeo testified a day after James Clapper, outgoing Director of National Intelligence, phoned Trump to deny that U.S. intelligence agencies had prepared or had circulated a 35-page document filled with unverified allegations against the president-elect.

In tweets and at his news conference on Wednesday, Trump accused intelligence agencies of leaking the document, a tactic he compared to that of Nazi Germany.

Pompeo said he hasn’t seen evidence that Trump’s mocking and insults in recent weeks had hurt morale at the CIA.

“What I have seen from the spirited warriors in the CIA is [the desire] to get out of those political fights and perform their function,” he said.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

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UPDATES:

12:25 p.m.: This article was updated with more details and the hearing’s end. 

9:11 a.m.: This article was updated with details from the hearing.

This article was originally posted at 6 a.m.

 

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