Mike Pompeo, a former three-term U.S. congressman from Kansas, became director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then U.S. secretary of state under President Donald Trump.
Who Is Mike Pompeo?
Born and raised in Southern California, Mike Pompeo attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and spent five years in active service. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he ran two businesses in Kansas, before earning election to the first of three House terms in 2010. The conservative Pompeo became known for his hawkish stances on national security, including his opposition to the Iran nuclear accord and support of surveillance programs. After initially joining President Donald Trump’s administration as CIA director in January 2017, he was confirmed as U.S. secretary of state in April 2018.
Mike Pompeo attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of State
Following months of a rumored rift between President Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, Trump announced via Twitter on March 13, 2018, that he was naming Mike Pompeo to take over the State Department.
“As Director of the CIA, Mike has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community,” said a statement distributed by the White House. “He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The president reportedly decided to make the change in order to have a new team in place before a planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the spring. In a corresponding move, it was announced that Gina Haspel would be promoted from deputy to CIA director, making her the first woman to hold the role.
Ahead of his April 12 Senate confirmation hearing, Pompeo reached out to lawmakers and every living former secretary of state, including Hillary Clinton, whom he’d previously criticized. Expected to face tough questioning, the nominee impressed with his pledges to follow the path of diplomacy with North Korea and Iran, insisting as a former Army captain that “war is always the last resort.” However, he did encounter a skeptic in New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who wondered whether Pompeo harbored antipathy toward Muslims.
Although Kentucky’s Rand Paul made headlines by wavering before his last-minute pledge to back Pompeo, the nominee ultimately received enough support from moderate Democrats to garner a favorable review from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On April 26, 2018, he was confirmed to his new post as top U.S. diplomat by a count of 57-42 and sworn in almost immediately afterward.
Pompeo quickly got to work by flying to Brussels, Belgium, to meet with NATO allies. He helped set the table for President Trump’s historic summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, and personally met with the North Korean leader in October to lay the groundwork for a second summit.
Around that time, the secretary of state was thrust into the position of defending U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia after The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Although the CIA reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination, Pompeo downplayed that assessment and said there was no hard evidence connecting the crown prince to Khashoggi’s death.
In February 2019, Pompeo announced that the U.S. was suspending the 30-plus-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia due to the Eastern power’s inability to comply to terms. “Russia’s violations put millions of Europeans and Americans at greater risk,” he said, adding, “It is our duty to respond appropriately.”
That fall, the secretary of state found himself in another controversial spot when it was revealed he was on a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which time Trump pressured his counterpart to investigate 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Pompeo was then involved in efforts to negotiate a ceasefire with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that allowed Kurdish forces to safely exit the region of a military operation in northeast Syria.
Donald Trump’s CIA Nominee
On November 16, 2016, shortly after his Election Day victory over Clinton, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Mike Pompeo to run the Central Intelligence Agency. The nomination made headlines, in part because Pompeo, known for his conservative viewpoints, would be asked to fill an outwardly non-partisan role as CIA director.
During confirmation hearings, Pompeo sought to distance himself from some of Trump’s controversial views. He said he agreed with the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had attempted to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, and that he did not endorse the use of waterboarding during interrogation.
Pompeo was confirmed to the post by a 66-32 vote, and sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency on January 23, 2017.
As head of the CIA, Pompeo delivered daily intelligence briefings to President Trump on matters related to the nuclear threat from North Korea, cyber warfare from China and Russia and terrorist activity spreading from the Middle East. He reorganized the bureaucracy to have the counterintelligence team report directly to him, and pushed to expand espionage and covert operations.
In his role, Pompeo straddled a delicate line between supporting his temperamental boss and taking the middle ground. As President Trump engaged in an increasingly hostile back-and-forth interaction with Kim Jong-un, which included the threat to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea, Pompeo insisted that war was avoidable, while at the same time noting that the U.S. couldn’t simply remain idle as the rogue nation developed its nuclear arsenal.
In September 2017, Pompeo made headlines by canceling a scheduled appearance at Harvard University. It was believed to be the result of his alma mater’s offer of a visiting fellowship to Chelsea Manning, who served a prison sentence for leaking classified information. Shortly after Pompeo and another former CIA leader canceled their appearances, Harvard rescinded its offer to Manning.
Pompeo was elected to the first of three terms in Congress in November 2010, representing Kansas’ 4th District. Along with joining the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he became widely known for his fiscal and social conservatism and outspoken stances on several issues:
Following the deadly 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, Pompeo was named to the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The Kansas congressman was sharply critical of Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Clinton’s handling of events, noting on a “Meet the Press” appearance in 2015 that “this is worse, in some ways” than the Watergate scandal. When the committee delivered its final report in June 2016, Pompeo co-authored a blistering addendum that decried the failure of leadership.
Iran Nuclear Accord
Pompeo vehemently opposed the 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iraq and six world powers, in which sanctions would be lifted on the Middle Eastern country in exchange for new monitoring procedures and the limiting of enrichment facilities. The following year, Pompeo argued in an op-ed piece for Fox News that the deal was not making things any safer, and urged the U.S. to “walk away from this deal.”
In 2015, when the Senate voted to end the Patriot Act provision that granted the National Security Agency access to the phone data of millions of Americans, Pompeo was among those who insisted the country was doing away with a valuable tool to fight terrorism. He penned an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal the following January which argued that “robust surveillance, drawing on a variety of technical and human intelligence and backed up by rigorous investigation of all leads, is the best way to mitigate the threat,” and introduced the Liberty Through Strength Act to restore the NSA’s access to valuable records.
Guantanámo Bay and Security
Pompeo has opposed the closing of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where many suspected terrorists have been held. Observing detainees on a hunger strike during a visit in 2013, the congressman noted that it looked like “a lot of them have put on weight,” and he later called their strike a “political stunt.”
Similarly, he has been outspoken in defending the sort of interrogation practices conducted at Guantanámo Bay and elsewhere. In response to the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture in 2014, he issued a statement that read:
“Our men and women who were tasked to keep us safe in the aftermath of 9/11 — our military and our intelligence warriors — are heroes, not pawns in some liberal game being played by the ACLU and [Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne] Feinstein. These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots. … If any individual did operate outside of the program’s legal framework, I would expect them to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Following the passage of laws in some states that required the mandatory labeling of foods with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Pompeo introduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 to stem its passage elsewhere, based on the premise that it would drive up costs.
“Precisely zero pieces of credible evidence have been presented that foods produced with biotechnology pose any risk to our health and safety,” the congressman said. “We should not raise prices on consumers based on the wishes of a handful of activists.”
Critics blasted Pompeo for favoring the preferences of powerful agribusinesses like Monsanto over the rights of consumers. Regardless, the bill passed by a 275-150 vote in the House in July 2015.
Upbringing, Military and Harvard
Michael Richard Pompeo was born on December 30, 1963, in Orange, California, to parents Wayne and Dorothy. He grew up in Santa Ana and attended Los Amigos High School in Fountain Valley, where he was a member of the varsity basketball team.
Pompeo enrolled at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating first in his class with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1986. He followed with five years of active duty in the U.S. Army, serving as a cavalry officer in East Germany and rising to the rank of captain.
Accepted to Harvard Law School, Pompeo became editor of the Harvard Law Review and earned his J.D. in 1994.
Pompeo began his civilian career at the Williams & Connolly law firm in Washington, D.C., where he mainly worked in tax litigation. He moved to his mother’s home state of Kansas in 1996 and co-founded Thayer Aerospace, which expanded to more than 400 employees within a decade. Pompeo then became president of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment manufacturing, distribution and service company.
Mike and his wife Susan, a native of Wichita, Kansas, have one son, Nick. The Pompeos have been involved in their community by serving on charitable boards of directors and teaching Sunday school at their church.