Analysis:: How Mike Pompeo went from one of Trump’s biggest critics to one of his biggest fans
A truth of Washington is that as power changes, so do allegiances.
Aside from Mitt Romney, perhaps no Republican politician had such a remarkable transformation from Trump hater to Trump lover than Mike Pompeo, the current CIA director and President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the State Department.
In the span of a little more than a year, Pompeo has gone from calling Trump an authoritarian would-be leader to being one of the president’s biggest cheerleaders, including on Russian interference, and even when it undermines the CIA’s own findings.
Trump said outright Tuesday that the reason he wants Pompeo in the job is because the two get along so well and see eye to eye on policy.
“With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process,” Trump said. “I think it’s going to go very well.”
Here’s how that evolution went down:
March 2016: Pompeo warned that Trump would be an authoritarian president. As Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty points out, back when Trump was running for office, Pompeo warned GOP voters in Kansas that a vote for Trump would be a vote for an authoritarian president. “It’s time to turn down the lights on the circus,” the then-congressman said while campaigning for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
July 2016: Trump wins the Republican nomination for president. Despite the efforts of Pompeo — and many, many Republicans.
October 2016: Pompeo defends Mike Pence’s debate performance. Pompeo quickly came around to Trump’s nomination, and he managed to ingratiate himself into the campaign pretty quickly. CNN reports that the campaign would call him every so often to talk about national security.
In October, Pompeo was literally in the spin room — a room where politicians make themselves available to reporters after a debate — to spin Pence’s debate performance. At the time, Pence was roundly criticized for creating a kind of alternate reality about the Trump campaign’s positions, saying the United States should consider striking Russian ally Syria, even though Trump said he wanted to work with Russia on Syria.
Pompeo tried to close that gap by saying Trump and Pence share a “traditional notion of deterrence.”
November 2016: Trump wins the election, and Pompeo is among the constant parade of Republican politicians and business executives who travel to New York to meet with the president-elect. Trump is reported to have liked Pompeo right off the bat. In fact, Trump said as much Tuesday: “I’ve always, right from the beginning, from Day One, I’ve gotten along well with Mike Pompeo.”
November 2016: Trump nominates Pompeo to be his CIA director. Pompeo accepts, saying he’s “honored” and “humbled.”
His Republican colleagues in Congress say they think Pompeo will stand firm on Russia interference, despite the president-elect’s open questioning.
“I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Pompeo is very skeptical of Vladimir Putin,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told the New York Times before Pompeo’s confirmation hearing. “I don’t think you can get any more concerned about Putin’s advancement” than Mr. Pompeo.
Jan. 11, 2017: Trump tweets that the agency Pompeo is about to lead is no better than Nazis. He’s blaming the agency for BuzzFeed’s decision to publish an unverified dossier alleging Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
Jan. 12, 2017: In Pompeo’s confirmation hearing before the Senate, he directly contradicts Trump on whether Russia was responsible for hacking of Democratic emails during the campaign. Trump has said he believes Putin when he said that Russia didn’t do it.
But the CIA has concluded Russia was behind the hacking, and we now know special counsel Robert Mueller has enough evidence to indict 13 Russians for it.
At his confirmation hearing, Pompeo is asked what he thinks, and he says the Russians were behind it: “It’s pretty clear about what took place about Russian involvement in efforts to hack information.”
Jan. 21, 2017: Trump, aware of his feud with the CIA, tries to set things right by addressing the agency on his first day in office. But things go terribly wrong when Trump, with the wall of stars of fallen agents behind him, starts talking about politics — defending his inauguration crowd size, dissing the media, and being disingenuous about the role he’s had in questioning the CIA’s findings on Russian interference.
“President Trump’s speech at CIA was both highly inappropriate and frightening,” Mike Morell, former acting director of the CIA, told Politico.
Pompeo is silent. A few days later, he’s officially confirmed by the Senate for the job.
February 2017: Pompeo is enlisted to make calls to news organizations to try to discredit a New York Times article detailing Trump campaign connections with Russia. Axios reports that Pompeo called journalists and told them off the record that the story wasn’t true but didn’t provide any details. Pompeo has never confirmed his involvement in this.
July 2017: Pompeo downplays Russian interference in the U.S. election. Despite conclusions from the very agency he leads that the Russians engaged in an effort to help Trump win, Pompeo contradicts that at a security conference in Aspen, Colo. “It is true” that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Pompeo said, “and the one before that, and the one before that ... “
October 2017: Pompeo meets with the leading proponent of a theory that the hack of Democratic emails wasn’t done by Russians and was actually a leak by Democrats themselves. The Intercept reports that Pompeo took this controversial meeting at the request of Trump to see whether it had any merit.
Also October 2017: Pompeo, rather than focusing on how Russia interfered in U.S. politics, echoes Trump’s talking point that it didn’t change the election. "[T]he intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election,” he said.
It’s a talking point not backed up by Pompeo’s own agency. The intelligence report Pompeo is referring to “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.”
2017 into 2018: Pompeo is a frequent guest at the White House. As The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report:
“Pompeo long has been mentioned as Tillerson’s most likely replacement. As CIA director, the former Republican lawmaker from Kansas developed a warm relationship with Trump, often delivering the President’s Daily Brief to Trump in person and racing over to the West Wing at a moment’s notice to field the president’s queries on a range of topics.
“Pompeo often is found in a host of meetings that do not necessarily deeply involve his agency, simply because Trump likes him, said one White House official.”
March 2018: Trump abruptly fires his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and promptly nominates Pompeo for the job.
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