Pompeo is the only man he wanted
There have been many partisan CIA directors in the past working the levers to advance the president's agenda from within. But we've never had a president who is a suspect in a counter-intelligence investigation before. So this is very troubling:
As CIA director, Mike Pompeo has taken a special interest in an agency unit that is closely tied to the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, requiring the Counterintelligence Mission Center to report directly to him.
Officials at the center have, in turn, kept a watchful eye on Pompeo, who has repeatedly played down Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and demonstrated a willingness to engage in political skirmishes for President Trump.
Current and former officials said that the arrangement has been a source of apprehension among the CIA’s upper ranks and that they could not recall a time in the agency’s history when a director faced a comparable conflict.
The Russia issue has complicated Pompeo’s effort to manage a badly strained relationship between the agency and a president who has disparaged its work and compared U.S. intelligence officials to Nazis. Amid that tension, Pompeo’s interactions with the counterintelligence center have come under particular scrutiny.
The unit helped trigger the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia by serving as a conduit to the FBI last year for information the CIA developed on contacts between Russian individuals and Trump campaign associates, officials said.
The center works more closely with the FBI than almost any other CIA department does, officials said, and continues to pursue leads on Moscow’s election interference operation that could factor in the probe led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a former FBI director.
Pompeo has not impeded that work, officials said. But several officials said there is concern about what he might do if the CIA uncovered new information potentially damaging to Trump and Pompeo were forced to choose between protecting the agency or the president.
“People have to watch him,” said a U.S. official who, like others, requested anonymity to speak frankly. “It’s almost as if he can’t resist the impulse to be political.”
A second former CIA official cited a “real concern for interference and politicization,” saying that the worry among some at the agency is “that if you were passing on something too dicey [to Pompeo] he would go to the White House with it.”
Pompeo has attributed his direct supervision of the counterintelligence center to a desire to place a greater emphasis on preventing leaks and protecting classified secrets — core missions of the center that are also top priorities for Trump.
This is a serious problem. Pompeo has access to everything. We already know that the head of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, who is ostensibly recused from the investigation because he worked on behalf of Donald Trump in his investigative role, is still seeing classified information that he's undoubtedly sharing with Dear Leader. But this is a whole different level.
Pompeo's interference should not be allowed. But I think the only way to stop it would be for him to recuse and Trump has made it very clear with his treatment of Jeff Sessions that he expects his toadies to stay in the job and protect him regardless of appearances. He's not going anywhere. That means the agency is forced to operate outside the normal channels. And that's not good either.
What a mess.