CIA Director Mike Pompeo was named by President Donald Trump as his choice to lead the State Department. Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg News
Nancy A. Youssef
WASHINGTON— Donald Trump’s plan to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state positions a crucial Trump ally as the administration’s top diplomat, one who the president said is more in line with his foreign-policy vision.
Mr. Pompeo is among the few outsiders to have developed a seemingly close relationship with the president. The two meet each morning for the daily intelligence brief, conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency director. During the meetings, Mr. Pompeo explained the nuances of major international issues to Mr. Trump, officials close to him said. He also would, at times, bring in CIA staffers to explain a particular issue or how they obtained a key piece of intelligence.
As CIA director, Mr. Pompeo demanded the Counterintelligence Mission Center report to him, which some Trump administration critics said hampered the agency from aggressively pursuing charges of collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. He also pushed for more agents to go to the front lines of major conflict zones.
Notably, he delicately walked a line between a president who frequently criticized the intelligence community and the agents under his command angered by Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Because of his close relationship with the president, Mr. Pompeo’s name frequently appeared on shortlists for jobs inside the White House, including as a possible successor to chief of staff John Kelly. But some suggested the former Kansas congressman didn’t belong behind the White House walls, but rather on a larger platform than even the CIA directorship could offer.
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A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and Harvard University, Mr. Pompeo holds more hard-line views than his predecessor on two key foreign policy issues: Iran and North Korea.
In his new post, Mr. Pompeo will have a greater opportunity to shape those policies. Mr. Trump said Tuesday that Mr. Pompeo and he were “always on the same wavelength.” The White House faces a May 12 deadline for deciding whether to extend U.S. sanctions waivers on Iran.
Mr. Pompeo, who joined Congress as part of the 2010 tea party wave, was among the most vehement opponents of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Pompeo is better known among Republicans who served with him in the House than by those who were in the Senate during his congressional tenure.
“I haven’t gotten to know Pompeo very well,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) said Tuesday, noting he had spoken with him Tuesday morning and planned to meet with him later this week.
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“I worked with him on energy issues, and he’s very bright,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), who overlapped with Mr. Pompeo in the House. “He’s made some good statements on Russia—acknowledging the obvious, that they were involved (in the 2016 election). I’m anxious to see if he sticks to those views.”
Mr. Pompeo had ruffled some feathers among Senate Republicans in 2016, when he publicly criticized fellow Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran for saying the Senate should hold confirmation hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.
Senate Republicans’ campaign arm warned then-Rep. Pompeo to avoid challenging Sen. Moran in the GOP primary, saying they would work to protect the incumbent.
Fellow Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said at the time that he was “surprised by the tone” of Mr. Pompeo’s statements and that a primary challenge from within the Kansas GOP delegation would be unusual. Mr. Pompeo opted not to challenge Mr. Moran.
In 2015, Mr. Pompeo suggested he might run for House Speaker, before Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) agreed to take on the role.
“If I can serve the American people and the conservative movement in any way, sign me up,” Mr. Pompeo said in a statement then. “However, a couple weeks ago I was floated as a presidential candidate, so I might be pretty busy,” he said, jokingly.
Some House Democrats praised Mr. Pompeo’s intellect, but warned he must be ready to challenge Mr. Trump.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said while he and Mr. Pompeo have disagreed, he found him to be hardworking and intelligent. “Director Pompeo has not always been willing to stand up to the president, particularly when Trump has questioned the intelligence community’s conclusions on Russia, and we will need the new secretary to be willing to speak hard truths to the president.”
Democratic senators on Tuesday expressed concern about what they consider to be Mr. Pompeo’s hawkish views.
“I look forward to hearing from Mike Pompeo about his plans for the State Department, but he’s got a lot of work to do in order to get Democratic votes,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said in a statement. “The last thing we need is a ‘yes’ man at State who views America’s power exclusively through the prism of military power and covert action.”
When asked about the president’s repeated criticism of the intelligence community, Mr. Pompeo frequently has responded: “We have gotten everything we asked for.”
Born in Orange, Calif., in 1963, Mr. Pompeo comes from a family of Italian immigrants. After graduation from West Point in 1986, became an Army cavalry officer and fought in the first Gulf War.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, he worked for the law firm Williams & Connolly. Mr. Pompeo founded Thayer Aerospace and Private Security, where he worked before winning Kansas’ fourth congressional seat in 2010. Perhaps because of his time in Kansas, he is known for his love of barbecue.
Write to Nancy A. Youssef at Nancy.Youssef@wsj.com