WASHINGTON — Mike Pompeo was sworn in Monday night as director of the CIA at a crucial time for U.S. national security as intelligence — traditionally a nonpartisan issue — has been thrust into the political arena.
“You are stepping up to lead the finest intelligence-gathering operation the world has ever seen,” Vice President Mike Pence said during the nighttime swearing-in ceremony. “The men and women serving under your command give true meaning to the word courage.”
The Senate earlier Monday confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the CIA despite some Democratic objections that the Kansas congressman has been less than transparent about his positions on torture, surveillance and Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election.
The vote was 66-32.
Trump has been critical of intelligence agencies since their assessment of Russian involvement to help him win the election, but the new president also has said he is fully behind them.
Senate Republicans had hoped to vote on Pompeo’s nomination Friday, after Trump’s inauguration. But Democrats succeeded in stalling action until they could debate.
Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden on Monday said Pompeo was the “wrong man for the job.”
“He has endorsed extreme policies that would fundamentally erode liberties and freedoms of our people without making us safer,” Wyden said. He said Pompeo’s answers to questions from some senators have been “vague” and “contradictory,” making it impossible to know what Pompeo believes.
“I see no real commitment to transparency and his views on the most fundamental analysis of the day — the involvement of Russia in our election — seemed to shift with those of the president,” Wyden said.
In written responses to questions from the Senate, on Jan. 3, Pompeo said only that intelligence agency assessments in general should be taken seriously. After Trump conceded Russia was behind the campaign hacks, Pompeo on Jan. 12 told the Senate intelligence committee that particular assessment was “solid.”
“We need a CIA director who is direct about his beliefs and his assessments,” Wyden said.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said Democrats were playing politics in its efforts to delay and derail Trump’s choice to run the CIA.
One of Trump’s first stops as president was Saturday at the CIA’s headquarters in Northern Virginia, where he made a speech that focused more on falsely accusing the media of lying about how many people attended his inauguration than on the role the CIA plays protecting the U.S.
Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents Saturday, Trump assured intelligence officials, “I am so behind you.”
He made no mention of his repeated criticism of the intelligence agencies following the election, including his public challenges of their high-confidence assessment that Russia meddled in the White House race to help him win.
In its final days, President Barack Obama’s administration announced intelligence findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election with the goal of getting Trump elected. Trump himself has denied most of the assessment, though eventually conceded Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails during the campaign.
Pompeo, a conservative Republican from Kansas and a member of the House intelligence committee, faced a mostly friendly confirmation hearing Jan. 12.
He enrolled as a teenager at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and graduated first in his class in 1986. He served in the Army at a time when the Soviet Union was America’s No. 1 adversary.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.