President Trump has removed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him. The move has been talked about for months.
Relations between Trump and Tillerson have never been good. Unnamed officials say they reached a breaking point recently, though they haven’t said why. There is speculation that Tillerson’s statement that he believes Russia is responsible for the poisoning of a Russian ex-pat in London may have been the last straw. Before that, though, reports that Tillerson was not in the loop when Trump announced he would talk with Kim Jong Un suggest he wasn’t long for the job. [Note: It has now been reported that Trump made the decision last Friday].
Tillerson’s main credential for the job at State seemed to be that Mitt Romney was his rival for the position. Once in his post, it sometimes seemed like Tillerson’s primary task was distancing himself and his department from the President. Perhaps this assessment is unfair, though. From the outside, it’s difficult to assess a Secretary of State’s performance in just one year.
The same is probably even more true of a CIA Director. However, Pompeo has been in Washington for the better part of a decade. When he took over at the CIA, his reputation among conservatives I trust could hardly have been stronger. As far as I can tell, his time at Langley only enhanced that reputation.
The key point, though, is that, unlike commentators, Trump is on the inside. He has had a year to work with Tillerson and Pompeo. I believe Pompeo briefs him on something like a daily basis. Trump obviously finds Pompeo more able than Tillerson and more in line with his thinking.
Candidate Trump, as an outsider disliked by the establishment, did not have the benefit of getting to know and hear from a wide range of foreign policy/national security practitioners. He heard almost exclusively from the few practitioners who supported him — a limited crop.
After 14 months in the White House, Trump knows most of the non-leftist crop. He sees Pompeo as its cream. I think he’s right.
At the CIA, Trump will nominate Gina Haspel, currently the deputy director, to succeed Pompeo. If confirmed, she will become the agency’s first female director.
I don’t know anything about Haspel, other than that she is a career employee. According to NPR:
Haspel’s fingerprints are all over the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs. She ran the “black site” prison in Thailand where al-Qaida suspect Abu Zabaydah was waterboarded 83 times. Those sessions were videotaped but the tapes were destroyed in 2005, two years after a member of Congress called on the CIA to preserve such tapes.
Who wrote the cable ordering their destruction? Gina Haspel.
NPR goes on to report, however, that Haspel did not order the destruction of the tapes according to CIA officials past and present. John Bennett says: “This [the destruction of the videotapes] was not done on Gina Haspel’s authority, and I know that because I was there.”
Bennett also says:
I don’t know anybody who joined the CIA to run an interrogation program,” he continued, “But in the aftermath of 9/11, Gina Haspel and other colleagues stepped up to what is frankly a dirty job – because they were repeatedly assured that it was not only legal but necessary for the safety of the country. And they did it – Gina did it – because they felt it was their duty.
That speaks well of her, in my opinion. Expect a bloody confirmation battle, though.