Testifying in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday morning, Mike Pompeo said that if confirmed as CIA director, he would refuse any presidential order to torture detainees like the agency did in the years after 9/11.
“I can’t imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect or the then-president,” the Kansas congressman added, referring to Donald Trump.
Pompeo may have been remembering a clip from a Republican primary debate last March in which Trump repeated his policy to “go for waterboarding, and we should go tougher than waterboarding.”
Under laws passed in the aftermath of a sweeping investigation into the CIA’s brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists during the administration of George W. Bush, the U.S. must follow restrictions on interrogations laid out in the Army Field Manual, which prohibits torture. If a president ordered otherwise, America’s armed forces “would refuse to act,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden said last February.
Trump was unmoved by Hayden’s comments, however, at the March debate. “They won’t refuse,” he said. “They’re not going to refuse, believe me.”
According to his sworn testimony today, however, Pompeo said he would defy such an order, setting up a potential showdown in the coming administration.
Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas, also differed from the president-elect’s recent assessments of the CIA and the site WikiLeaks. Pompeo called the CIA the “world’s premiere intelligence agency” and said he had a “very, very high degree of confidence in our intelligence community.” Over the last two days, Trump has twice accused that same intelligence community of “Nazi Germany” tactics in what he sees as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his election.
The intelligence community’s conclusions on Russia’s interference in the recent presidential election have been presented to the public without evidence, inciting tremendous political controversy in the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration.
Last week, Trump also sent multiple tweets promoting the opinions of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. During the campaign, WikiLeaks published the hacked emails from senior Democratic officials that the intelligence community believe were stolen under the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the month before the election, Trump mentioned WikiLeaks 164 times while campaigning, according to a compilation by the liberal site ThinkProgress.
But Pompeo was not as enamored of Assange or his site, testifying, “I have never believed that WikiLeaks was a credible source of information.”
It remains to be seen how Pompeo will deal with such disagreements when Trump is in the Oval Office.