WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s choice to lead the CIA, said in a 2014 Kansas TV interview that the United States and its allies should exploit Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weaknesses and use sanctions “to keep him in his box.”
Pompeo, a three-term Kansas Republican who served on the House Intelligence Committee, has been publicly quiet about his views on Russia since Trump tapped him last month. But a CIA analysis presented to lawmakers over the weekend concluded that Russia conducted cyberattacks to influence the very presidential election Trump won.
If he’s confirmed by the Senate, Pompeo would be in the awkward position of bringing intelligence on Russian activities to Trump, who’s spoken of his admiration for Putin and may not be receptive to it. Trump has rejected the CIA’s analysis of Russia’s involvement in U.S. elections, while lawmakers across the spectrum have called for an investigation.
A call to Pompeo’s cellphone Monday went straight to voicemail, and a text message sent to the same number went unanswered. The usually outspoken Pompeo has not indicated any of his positions on national and world affairs on his Twitter account since Trump announced him as his CIA choice on Nov. 18.
However, in an April 2014 interview broadcast locally in Wichita, Pompeo made clear that Putin was no friend of the United States.
“I think we have a lot to worry about with Vladimir Putin,” Pompeo said in the interview, which was produced by Wichita Liberty TV, a conservative-leaning weekly public affairs program broadcast on local public television.
Putin is trying to re-create a “greater Russia,” but with special forces and political propaganda instead of tanks, he said.
“It probably won’t look like the Cold War I fought,” said Pompeo, who served as an Army officer in Europe 30 years ago, in the waning days of the Soviet Union’s “Iron Curtain.”
But Pompeo said he feared that an expanded Russia under Putin might resemble the former Soviet Union, which he described as “what inevitably happens when government gets too much power.”
Pompeo, who graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, patrolled a 60-mile section of what was then the border between the Soviet Bloc and Western Europe.
“I saw it up close and personal,” he said. “You could watch where freedom was on one side and it wasn’t on the other.”
Pompeo, in his House Intelligence Committee role, has been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies toward two Russian allies, Syria and Iran.
In the 2014 interview, he expressed support for U.S. and European Union economic sanctions against Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has sought greater influence in the former Soviet satellite.
Trump, however, said during the campaign that he’d consider ending the sanctions and recognizing Crimea as Russian territory.
Trump is poised to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state. Tillerson has close ties to Russia, and his company has a joint venture with Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft, to drill in the Arctic Circle.
Pompeo said in 2014 that Putin had his sights set on other former Soviet states, namely Belarus and Moldova, and that he had sought to undermine a 1994 security assurance pledge by the U.S. and Great Britain that included Belarus and Ukraine.
“He has a vision for what greater Russia would look like,” Pompeo said.
He said economic sanctions were a key part of efforts to keep Putin’s ambitions in check.
“When you’re not ready to take those simple actions, someone like Vladimir Putin sees a green light,” Pompeo said. “He sees the capacity to expand his empire with nearly no cost.”
He said the U.S. and its allies should take advantage of Russia’s economic weakness.
“The West has an obligation to do the things we can,” he said. “We should exploit those weaknesses to keep him in his box.”