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Questions for Tillerson and Pompeo Confirmation Hearings — Updated

Confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks continue Wednesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding its second day of hearings to examine Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (Read Just Security’s questions for him here).

Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, who until recently was the CEO of ExxonMobil, will face the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9:15 a.m. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, was set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but his hearing now been delayed until Thursday. (A hearing for Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Transportation is also taking place Wednesday, not to mention Trump said he’ll hold his first press conference since July at 11 a.m. The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice for secretary of education, has been delayed until Jan. 17.)

To keep up with the chaotic schedule, and to help prepare for the hearings, Just Security put together brief bios, and collected questions from our contributing editors, plus some retired intelligence community officials, for Tillerson and Pompeo, who if confirmed, will help shape the Trump administration’s foreign and national security policy. 

Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State): Tillerson earned a degree in civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and then began his career at Exxon in 1975. He has spent the entirety of his career at the company, working his way through various management roles until becoming CEO and chairman of the board in 2006. Along the way, he served as  the president of Exxon Neftegas Limited, which, according to his bio on the Trump transition site, means he “was responsible for Exxon’s holdings in Russia and the Caspian Sea.” The Washington Post reports that Tillerson’s lack of experience in the public sector is a “first in modern history for a potential secretary of state.” However, as Trump and others see it, his business dealings all over the world, plus his management of a multibillion dollar company, served as ample training to lead the State Department. There are many aspects of Tillerson’s time at Exxon that raise an eyebrow or two. For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson with the Order of Friendship in 2013. Since 2001, ExxonMobil has been the defendant in a series of lawsuits for alleged human rights abuses committed by its security forces in Indonesia from 1999 to 2001. And USA Today reported Monday that Exxon “did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan through a European subsidiary” while Tillerson was a top executive. All three countries were under U.S. sanctions for being state sponsors of terrorism. While the company maintains the sales were legal because the subsidiary was based in Europe, they are sure to raise questions on Capitol Hill. It is also worth noting that on the campaign trail, Trump said he’d bomb the “sh*t out of ISIS,” then “invite Exxon” in to help him “take the oil.” Tillerson is a lifelong boy scout, and as the leader of the organization, pushed it to include gays.  

Questions:

  1. If the new CEO of ExxonMobil asks you to help negotiate with a foreign government, how will you respond? What if a foreign government asks you to help negotiate with ExxonMobil?
  2. While you were CEO, ExxonMobil concluded an oil deal with the Kurdish regional government over the strong objections of the Iraqi national government. As Secretary of State, would you encourage oil and gas and other companies to negotiate with the Iraqi national government or with the Kurdish regional government?
  3. Should the United States “take the oil” from countries in which it conducts military operations, such as Iraq or Syria (despite the fact that pillage is considered a war crime)?
  4. Should the United States recognize Crimea as part of the Russian Federation?
  5. If Russia sends its armed forces (or armed irregulars) into Estonia, how should the United States respond?  
  6. Would lifting current sanctions on Russia benefit ExxonMobil? Would you recommend lifting those sanctions?
  7. What are Russia’s core strategic interests and objectives?
  8. What are China’s core strategic interests and objectives?
  9. What are Iran’s core strategic interests and objectives?
  10. Does the construction or expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank violate international law? Should the United States publicly oppose the construction or expansion of such settlements?
  11. Is the Paris Agreement on climate change good or bad for the United States?
  12. In 2015, the DoD identified climate change as an international security risk.  Do you share that assessment?  How should the United States act to mitigate the instability created by climate change?  
  13. Should the United States abide by the terms of the Iran Nuclear Deal (aka the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) so long as Iran does the same?
  14. Under what circumstances, if any, should the United States use military force to prevent mass atrocities such as genocide?
  15. Will you retain the DoS Office of Global Women’s Issues? Will you provide that Office with more or fewer personnel and resources?
  16. With more than 65 million people fleeing their countries to escape war and persecution, what are your thoughts on the President-elect’s proposed refugee policies, including the plan to prohibit refugees from places like Syria?

Rep. Mike Pompeo (CIA Director): Pompeo is a third-term Republican “tea party” congressman from Kansas. He graduated from West Point and went on to serve in the Army. After Harvard Law School, he returned to Kansas, and founded the company Thayer Aerospace, and served as its CEO for more than a decade providing components for commercial and military aircraft, according to his official bio. A congressman since 2011, Pompeo serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, as well as the House Intelligence Committee. Pompeo played an outspoken role on the House Select Benghazi Committee. He’s a vocal critic of the Iran deal (tweeting on November 17, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”) and an advocate for expanded domestic surveillance. Since his nomination in November, a new issue has emerged for Pompeo, and that’s Trump’s disparagement of the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russian hacking (not to mention his promotion of Julian Assange’s version of events), and his dismissal of the daily intelligence briefing. Trump’s open feud with the CIA promises to create internal management and morale challenges for Pompeo, plus he’ll have to convince his boss of the credibility of his agency’s intelligence analysis.

Questions:

  1. In your view, what are the critical strategic threats the US confronts today?  How would you rank order the top five threats to U.S. interests?  What are the emerging threats?
  2. Do you believe that the Russian government was responsible for the recent hacking of the Democratic National Committee?
  3. In recent years, there have been apparent disconnects within the intelligence community on controversial intelligence assessments.  Most recently, the FBI did not immediately endorse the CIA/IC’s assessment of the motive behind recent Russian hacking efforts. What is your view on the potential politicization of interagency coordination on critical intelligence assessments?  Does the Director of National Intelligence play the proper coordinating role, in this regard?  What changes would you recommend to the interplay between the ODNI and CIA, if any?
  4. Do you see Russia as a threat or a potential ally? US and Russian intelligence cooperation has been lacking in Syria and in the counterterrorism fight.  What more can the CIA do to engage the Russians more productively in areas of joint cooperation?  In your view, what are the areas of common interest between the US and Russia?
  5. How important is the threat posed by nuclear proliferation? In this context, do you have any specific concerns about the North Korean nuclear program?  Nuclear terrorism?
  6. You and the president-elect have stated that you look forward to undoing the Iran nuclear agreement. What alternative would you propose to prevent the country from building nuclear arms? How do you think Iran would respond to the U.S. abandoning its terms of the deal?
  7. How do you assess the state of today’s counterterrorism fight?  Who is our enemy?  Can we win this war? How?  In your view, what are the underlying sources of the threat?  What role, if any, does religion play in characterizing the threat, and in addressing its roots?
  8. What are your plans for the CIA-trained Syrian Free Army? They’ve been on hold for several months due to policy issues and Russian involvement. As a result, they are suffering defections to more extremist groups.  What can the the CIA accomplish in Syria, with the US having been overshadowed on the ground by the Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance?
  9. Has the US got the right balance between safeguarding civil liberties and protecting the homeland?  Has the right balance been struck in conducting domestic surveillance to enhance counter-terrorism efforts?
  10. What do you think about the balance between CIA’s much expanded paramilitary operations (drones etc) and its traditional role of recruiting spies who provide information on adversaries’ plans and intentions?
  11. Are you going to re-assess the CIA reorganization implemented by DCIA John Brennan?  Do you plan to assess the impact of “modernization” on operations, morale and the agency’s production of foreign intelligence?
  12. In your experience as a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, what are your impressions of the CIA?  What are its strengths?  In what areas do you see a need for improvement?
  13. Numerous military and intelligence leaders, including the current chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, have said that torture and other forms of detainee abuse are ineffective, violate American values and harm U.S. national security.  So-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, are also unlawful under domestic and international law.  Do you agree that it is unlawful and unwise to use such techniques?
  14. Would you ever direct CIA personnel to torture a detainee suspected of involvement in terrorism? Do you consider waterboarding a method of torture?  If you did order such methods to be used, how could you assure your staff that they wouldn’t be prosecuted in later administrations for such actions?
  15. Would you ever direct CIA personnel to carry out a targeted killing operation in a way that would violate international or domestic law? For example, would you ever direct CIA personnel to deliberately target and intentionally kill the family members of suspected terrorists—family members who are not themselves involved in planning or carrying out terrorist attacks?
  16. What do you intend to do to protect the interests of the CIA as its director and bridge the apparent divide between the agency and President-elect Trump?
Image: Wikimedia

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About the Author

Deputy Managing Editor of Just Security, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council, Former Senior Reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).