Mike Pompeo takes over State Department from Rex Tillerson: Who is he?


President Donald Trump has replaced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State with Mike Pompeo, who was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Mr Pompeo will be replaced by CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel. The next step is for Mr Pompeo to be confirmed by the Senate – with a hearing likely to come in April – and gain at least a 51 vote majority, which Washington insiders say is more than likely to happen. Ms Haspel will also have to be confirmed.

Mr Trump told reporters in the wake of the announcement that he and Mr Pompeo shared similar thinking, while he had “disagreed with Mr Tillerson. He added that Mr Tillerson, a former Exxon CEO, would be “much happier” out of office. 

Mr Tillerson’s ousting comes at a point when several ambassadorships and other high-level political appointee positions at the State Department are still vacant. There is also the high rate of turnover within the White House, with Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority leader, saying the apparent “instability of this administration in just about every area weakens America.” 

What did Mike Pompeo do before entering Trump’s administration?

Before serving as the Director of the CIA for 14 months, developing a close relationship with Mr Trump through delivering the daily intelligence briefing, Mr Pompeo was a three-time Republican Congressman representing Kansas

As a member of the House of Representatives, Mr Pompeo defended the CIA’s use of torture during former George W Bush‘s administration, saying: “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots…the programmes being used were within the law, within the Constitution”.

He also advocated for keeping the US prison housing several prisoners believed to be members of terrorist groups in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba open because closing it would potentially result in “endless litigation and rights expanded well beyond those afforded to enemy combatants.” The international law on the matter is murky as long as the US is technically “at war” despite US law dictating these prisoners deserve due process. 

Rex Tillerson evades answering whether he called Trump a moron

The West Point graduate served as a member of the US Army in Germany, and in the first Gulf War.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Mr Pompeo worked as a lawyer for Koch Industries. The multi-billion dollar conglomerate is led by brothers Charles and David Koch, who have been fairly reliable financial and ideological supporters of Mr Trump and small-government views. 

Mr Pompeo received thousands in political contributions from the Kochs and employees while he was in office. 

Why does Trump prefer Mike Pompeo over Rex Tillerson to run the State Department?

Mr Trump referred to Mr Pompeo as having the same “thought process” as himself, implying Mr Tillerson did not. Even US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who has been given a relatively free reign in her domain by Mr Trump and who has been more outspoken and media-friendly than the tacit Mr Tillerson, called the replacement a “great decision”. 

“Pompeo was the most political CIA director in memory,” an administration official told Reuters, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“He dived into policy matters in a way that unnerved many professionals at the agency,” the official added. “Morale was taking a blow that was spreading from the analytical side, where some people feared he was tailoring some PDBs [President’s Daily Briefs] to tell Trump what he wanted to hear rather than what the intelligence assessments were”. 

Mr Pompeo is also on the same page regarding the Iran nuclear deal with the President. 

In October, the President decided not to re-certify the historic deal, signed by Iran and six world powers – a signature foreign policy achievement by predecessor President Barack Obama. It opened the door for harsher economic sanctions to be placed on the country, the mitigation of which was a key inducement for Iran to comply with the deal. Tehran had pledged to rein in its nuclear program in return for some easing of those economic restrictions imposed on it by the US, the UN, and European Union.

European allies, and even Mr Tillerson according to some reports, continued to urge the President to extend the sanctions relief in order to save the deal. Mr Trump will not hear that from the hawkish Mr Pompeo. 

“I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” he had tweeted in November 2016, when he was under consideration for the CIA post. 

The other issue that puts Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo in the same sphere of thinking is on the general issue of terrorist groups. As a Congressman, he routinely criticised Mr Obama for not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” when referring to groups like al-Qaeda or Isis. He has no problem framing terrorism, particularly in the Middle East, as a religion-based issue. 

Mr Tillerson, however, lauded Mr Trump for leaving the term out of a speech last August. “Terrorism has manifested itself in many types of organisations. The president has charged us to develop policies and tactics both diplomatically and militarily to attack terrorism in its many forms, wherever it exists in the world, and wherever it might present a threat to the homeland or Americans anywhere. This means that we need to develop techniques that are global in their nature,” he said in response to former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka saying the President should have used the term. 

Did this have to do with Russia? 

The stunning announcement comes on the heels of Mr Tillerson’s tour of five African nations, and his comments on Mondat that the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK was “a really egregious act” that appears to have “clearly” come from Russia. 

He had called Russia “an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens”.

In the hours before his sacking he also said Russia’s alleged poisoning, in public, on foreign soil could “certainly will trigger a response” from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). “I’ll leave it at that,” he said. 

Long a critic of the President’s decisions, Mr Schumer said he hopes Mr Pompeo will “turn over a new leaf” and toughen policies toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. 

Mr Pompeo, in contrast, said the other day on Fox News that: “Americans should rest assured that we have a very good understanding of the Russian program and how to make sure that Americans continue to be kept safe from threats from Vladimir Putin.”

While the former Texas oil and gas executive shied away from media coverage whenever it could be avoided, Mr Pompeo welcomed it. He repeatedly, publicly, and unequivocally defended the President during the ongoing FBI and Congressional investigations into possible collusion between Trump campaign team members and Russian officials. 

On 6 January 2017, the US intelligence community issued a joint report that concluded it “did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election”. 

In October 2017, Mr Pompeo said the opposite during an appearance at a think tank that the intelligence community – that the intelligence community said Russia had no impact on the result of the election. 

While as CIA Director he catered to Mr Trump’s political whims as well, taking a meeting at the President’s request with a conspiracy theorist “who believes Russia’s hack and release of Democratic National Committee emails last summer was instead an inside job,” as reported by Vox. 

What does his appointment mean for the upcoming summit with North Korea?

Dr Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior research scholar for the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, told The Independent that Mr Tillerson was “very much in favour of diplomacy and had played a constructive role in overseeing the pressure campaign that the Administration has put in place over the course of the last year” on North Korea

However, perhaps due to the relationship between him and the President, the State Department has been left out of a number of policy issue discussions for several months. 

Still, the Secretary of State had been coordinating with diplomatic staff working to prepare the US for a meeting between Mr Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, expected to take place in May 2018. 

“A State Department shakeup during this diplomatic window is, strictly speaking, not good for diplomacy, even if most” of the policy comes from the White House, Ms Rapp-Hooper said. 

Joe Cirincione, president of global security foundation Ploughshares Fund, told The Independent that Mr Tillerson “was a key ally of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis …resisting the illusion of a military solution to the crisis with North Korea. He will now be replaced by an inexperienced hawk…who I heard brag at the Aspen Institute Security Forum last summer about “separation Kim Jung-un from his nuclear force” — and it wasn’t talking about negotiations”. 

Mr Pompeo has also “questioned whether [Mr Kim] is capable of making sound decisions as a head of state, which makes him an interesting choice to lead the State Department when diplomacy with North Korea is arguably the most important task in front of the department,” Ms Rapp-Hooper noted. 

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