WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged — after prodding by lawmakers — that he backs the finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential campaign to hurt Hillary Clinton and ultimately help Donald Trump.
Pompeo, who previously was Trump’s CIA director, was pressed by Democrats on whether he accepted that finding during testimony Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Yes, sir,” he said. But that was only after he initially said the judgment that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to help Trump win “was the least confirmed, that is, there was the least support for that” in the report issued by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency in January 2017, a few weeks before Trump took office.
The findings continue to present an awkward dilemma for Trump’s national security advisers, who seek to stand by the intelligence community even as the president frequently denounces the continuing investigation into Russian meddling by special counsel Robert Mueller as a “witch hunt” and assert that the Russians actually were working to help Clinton.
On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen professed ignorance when asked about the findings. “I do not believe that I’ve seen that conclusion that the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I’m not aware of that,” she told reporters after briefing House members on cybersecurity concerns for this year’s midterm elections. “But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.”
In a letter to Nielsen’s department on Wednesday, Reps. Adam Schiff and Andre Carson, Democrats who serve on the House Intelligence Committee, cited the Department of Homeland Security’s role in election security.
“It is critical for the public to know with confidence that the Department is relying on the objective intelligence work product and analysis, rather than any political sentiment, as it continues offering support for election security,” they wrote.
The 2017 intelligence report by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency assessed that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.”
But all three agencies said they had “high confidence” in the conclusion that Russia developed a “clear preference” for Trump.
In another exchange during Wednesday’s 3½-hour hearing, Pompeo was asked about a tweet by Trump hours earlier that “the Criminal Deep State” went after “Phony Collusion with Russia” and ended up “caught in a major SPY scandal.”
“I don’t believe there’s a deep state” at the agencies he’s led, the State Department and the CIA, Pompeo said, vouching for their employees. “There’s always an exception to every rule,” he added.