June 23, 2017–In May congressional overseers asked CIA director Mike Pompeo for a simple yes or no answer–did he have confidence in President Trump’s then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Pompeo shot back that the answer was more than a simple “yes” or “no,” and then he refused to provide it. –This from a man, a former member of the House intelligence committee, who had sworn at his nomination hearing that he would always be forthcoming and responsible to accountability (you can read much more on how the CIA escaped its management framework in my forthcoming book The Ghosts of Langley). But more interesting, for the moment, is what this brief exchange says about the man and his institution.
All over the town, and here too, for months the talk has been of the Russian Caper. Michael Flynn’s role in that has been a primary element of the conversation. The Central Intelligence Agency–in repeated, multiple-sourced revelations– has been pictured as having its hair on fire. CIA officials went to Congress more than once to warn of the Russian meddling. Two days ago the New York Times team on the story (Matt Apuzzo, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman) inserted a new piece in the puzzle–that until the day President Trump fired Flynn from the security adviser job, Pompeo had served up hot, steaming secrets to him each time the CIA came to present the president’s daily brief. This at a time when the agency worried Flynn could be targeted by Russian blackmailers, and when the Justice Department had explicitly warned White House lawyers of that danger.
What does that say about Mike Pompeo? The Times speculated about whether CIA rank and file did not trust Pompeo and therefore held back informing them of their fears. (A different take on the same facts would be that agency officers, aware that Pompeo is Trump’s man, feared getting on his wrong side by going after another Trump loyalist.) But the question ultimately devolves upon Pompeo himself. The new CIA director did not need underlings to tell him that Michael Flynn had become radioactive. Talk about Flynn was, as I said, all over town. The FBI had an investigation going. This past January and February former general Flynn had yet to be specifically named as under scrutiny, but all the evidentiary elements were there.
Mr. Pompeo had sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution–sorry if this sounds repetitive, but it is and will remain a central element in the narrative of the Russian Caper and you will hear it more–not a person. Pompeo was dealing with the nation’s top secrets. If there was doubt about someone in the room, the CIA director ought to have separately cleared with the president that Flynn could remain, or to have refused the security adviser access to the secrets. That’s what our top spooks have been doing recently with Congress. Pompeo appears not to have done either of those things. Where is Mike Pompeo? In Donald Trump’s pocket.