WASHINGTON – In 13 months as CIA director, Mike Pompeo sometimes displayed the aggressive partisanship he had developed as a Republican combatant in Congress, disturbing some colleagues with hawkish policy pronouncements and political spin that were jarring in his role as intelligence adviser.
But the agency appreciated his clout at the White House. His tough talk and stellar résumé as a graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School pleased President Donald Trump, who formed a close bond and easy rapport with Pompeo in daily intelligence briefings.
Now, if confirmed to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Pompeo, a 54-year-old former Kansas congressman, would become the first person to have served as both the United States' top spy and top diplomat. In the new job, Pompeo would no longer be constrained by the strictures of impartial intelligence analysis, a development likely to thrill his conservative political allies and alarm his critics.
"Mike allowed his public speeches to be more infused with policy than is traditional for a CIA director," said Michael Hayden, who served as CIA director from 2006 to 2009. "But the agency was very pleased that he was so close to the president. And I've heard no one say that he's made the agency skew its analysis to make the White House happy."
Hayden said Pompeo "has shown that he sounds and thinks more like the president than Tillerson ever did."
"That should make the relationship better," he said.
Tillerson "acted as a counterbalance to the president's spontaneous reaction to things," Hayden said, a role that he suggested Pompeo would be less likely to play.
Pompeo, who was elected to Congress in 2010 in the Tea Party wave, has been especially outspoken on Iran. He shares Trump's view that the nuclear agreement with Tehran is deeply flawed. Shortly after Trump was elected, Pompeo wrote on Twitter, "I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism."
He has not moderated his messaging at the CIA. Five months ago, he called Iran a "despotic theocracy" and "a pernicious empire that is expanding its power and influence across the Middle East."
In October, he slipped up in discussing the volatile issue of Russia's interference in the 2016 election, claiming that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that the meddling did not affect the outcome. In fact, the agencies did not give an opinion on the effect of the Russian hacking, leaking and propaganda. The agency issued a corrective statement, and Pompeo has not repeated the mistake.
During Trump's campaign, Pompeo publicly welcomed WikiLeaks' release of Democratic e-mails hacked and leaked by Russia. But at the CIA, he has denounced the group, which published secret documents on the agency's hacking last year, as "a nonstate hostile intelligence service."
He has had to juggle some political grenades. When Trump learned that some U.S. intelligence retirees doubted the evidence that Russia was behind the 2016 hacking, he asked Pompeo to meet with William Binney, a National Security Agency veteran who has championed alternative theories.
That put the CIA director in an awkward spot because the agency had helped gather the evidence pointing at Russia. The two men had a polite meeting, but Pompeo did not change his view that Russia was responsible.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called his former House colleague "hardworking and intelligent and willing to hear different points of view." But he added a cautionary note, saying 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."
Pompeo, who served as a tank commander in the Army in Germany and founded an aerospace company, would be one of the most conservative secretaries of state in history. He was an outspoken critic of Hillary Clinton on her handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, and co-wrote an addendum to the House Benghazi committee's report because he felt it did not go far enough. He has said that Edward Snowden, who gave an archive of secret National Security Agency documents to journalists, should get the death penalty.
Pompeo brought a taste of America's domestic culture wars into the agency, laying plans to hire chaplains for the agency, which until now has typically treated religion as a private matter.
Officials said that the idea originated during a breakfast Pompeo had at the CIA with Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group that opposes gay rights, abortion and even divorce — a common hazard for CIA officers working in operations overseas.
His hard line against jihadi terrorism has sometimes spilled over into condemnation of Muslims more broadly, as in 2013, when he said U.S. Muslim leaders had not been sufficiently outspoken in denouncing the Boston Marathon bombing, making them "potentially complicit in these acts."
Such statements outraged groups like Muslim Advocates, which urged the Senate on Tuesday not to confirm Pompeo, who it said had "made a career of bigotry and hate."
A longtime beneficiary of conservative superdonors Charles and David Koch, whose oil and chemical company, Koch Industries, is based in Pompeo's former district, Pompeo repeatedly attacked the Obama administration's efforts to battle climate change. He opposed the Paris climate agreement and has been publicly skeptical that human activities are largely responsible for the atmosphere's warming, although he has not tried to block the intelligence agencies' finding that climate change contributes to security threats.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and a close friend of Pompeo's who traveled abroad with him both when he was in Congress and while he has been at the CIA, said that despite his sometimes harsh language and strong views, Pompeo is a good choice for the State Department.
"Mike consistently in our foreign travels has been diplomatic but firm," Cotton said. "He won't dodge hard issues, but he won't needlessly antagonize people."