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CIA Pick Pompeo Defies Trump, Says He Won't Waterboard

by Emma Margolin /  / Updated 
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) is sworn in at 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.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo on Thursday sought to quell concerns his judgment as CIA director would be colored by partisan motivations, staking out positions at odds with the President-elect.

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Pompeo said he would not endorse the use of waterboarding during interrogation, and he agreed with the intelligence community's assessment that Russia had attempted to interfere in the U.S. election.

"Absolutely not," Pompeo responded when asked if he would follow an order to restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside the Army Field Manual.

"Moreover, I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect or then president," he said, adding that any changes to the manual would have to come through Congress.

President-elect Donald Trump during the campaign said he would bring back waterboarding.

Asked about the skepticism by Trump's opponents as to the legitimacy of the election and political division, Pompeo told the committee: "I have no doubt that the discourse that's been taking place is something that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin would look at and say, 'Wow, that was among the objectives that I had.”

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Earlier in the hearing, Pompeo said he believed a recent report from the intelligence community concluding that Russia tried to help Republican President-elect Donald Trump by "discrediting" his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, was "sound."

If confirmed as CIA director, he added, "I will continue to pursue foreign intelligence with vigor no matter where the facts lead."

A Rocky Start

As Sen. Mark Warner, the committee's ranking Democrat, was making his opening remarks, the power went out, prompting everyone to relocate to a different room. Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the committee’s chairman, assured NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell the outage was the result of a central power failure affecting parts of the Senate office building, and not some nefarious cause.

Fellow Kansas Republicans, former Sen. Bob Dole and current Sen. Pat Roberts, introduced Pompeo to the committee.

Zeroing in on Russia

In his opening remarks, Pompeo took aim at Russia, saying that Moscow has “reasserted itself aggressively, invading and occupying Ukraine, threatening Europe and doing nothing to aid in the defeat of ISIS.”

He later said, “It’s pretty clear about what took place here about Russia involvement in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy.”

The remarks put him at odds with the president-elect, who has repeatedly challenged the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind a hack on the Democratic National Committee.

Trump at a Wednesday press conference said "As far as hacking, I think it's Russia," but quickly pivoted to mentioning other nations that engage in cyberattacks. Russia has denied being involved.

Torture Techniques

Pressed on his views about “enhanced interrogation techniques” — which Pompeo has defended as legal and patriotic, not as torture — the four-term Republican said Thursday that current law limits interrogation to techniques outlined in the Army Field Manual, which does not include methods like waterboarding.

In order to bring back enhanced interrogation techniques, Pompeo said, Congress would have to the change the law.

Furthermore, Pompeo added that he would “absolutely not” follow an order from the president to restart any techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual. Trump campaigned in part on a promise to bring back waterboarding.

"I can’t imagine that I would be asked that,” Pompeo said, without acknowledging Trump’s campaign commitment. "I am deeply aware that any changes to that will have to come through Congress… I’ll always comply with the law."

Iran Deal

A foreign policy hawk elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010, Pompeo is known as a vociferous critic of the Iran nuclear deal and champion of aggressive surveillance programs. He was tapped by Trump to lead the CIA ten days after the election.

Pompeo said Thursday that though he opposed the Iran nuclear agreement as a member a Congress, “If confirmed [as CIA director], my role will change."

He vowed to continue to evaluate Iranian compliance with the agreement, which put limits on Iran’s nuclear programs in exchange for lighter sanctions. Yet he cautioned: "The Iranians are professionals at cheating."

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