The US Senate has approved the appointment of Donald Trump’s nominee Mike Pompeo to run the CIA, despite claims that he has been less than transparent about his positions on torture, surveillance and Russia’s election meddling.
Mr Pompeo, whose appointment was approved by 66 votes to 32, takes the helm of America’s top spy agency at a crucial time for US national security as intelligence, traditionally a non-partisan issue, has been thrust into the political arena.
President Trump has been critical of intelligence agencies after their assessment of Russian involvement to help him win the election, but has also has said he is fully behind them.
Senate Republicans hoped to vote on Mr Pompeo’s nomination on Friday, after Mr Trump’s inauguration, but Democrats succeeded in stalling action until they could hold a debate.
Senator Ron Wyden said Mr 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,” the Oregon Democrat said.
He said Mr Pompeo’s answers to questions from some senators had been “vague” and “contradictory”, making it impossible to know what he believed.
“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,” Mr Wyden said.
In written responses to questions from the Senate on January 3, Mr Pompeo said only that intelligence agency assessments in general should be taken seriously.
After Mr Trump conceded Russia was behind the campaign hacks, Mr Pompeo told the Senate intelligence committee that particular assessment was “solid”.
“We need a CIA director who is direct about his beliefs and his assessments,” Mr Wyden said.
But Republican senator Richard Burr, chairman of the intelligence committee, said Democrats were playing politics in its efforts to delay and derail Mr Trump’s choice to run the CIA.
One of Mr Trump’s first stops as president was at the CIA’s headquarters in Northern Virginia on Saturday, 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 US.
Standing in front of a memorial for fallen CIA agents, he 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, Barack Obama’s administration announced intelligence findings that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election with the goal of getting Mr Trump elected.
Mr Trump himself has denied most of the assessment, though eventually conceded Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails during the campaign.
Mr Pompeo, a conservative Republican from Kansas and a member of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, faced a mostly friendly confirmation hearing on January 12.
He enrolled as a teenager at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, and graduated first in his class in 1986, serving in the army at a time when the Soviet Union was America’s number one adversary.
Later, at a swearing-in ceremony for Mr Pompeo, US vice president Mike Pence praised his “wealth of experience” and “character” and said he was “stepping up to lead the finest intelligence-gathering operation the world has ever seen”.