Progressive group blasts Reed, Whitehouse for backing Trump CIA pick

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A progressive group is blasting Rhode Island U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse for voting to confirm President Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, Congressman Mike Pompeo.

While the majority of Senate Democrats voted against Pompeo on Monday – including Massachusetts’ two senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey – Reed and Whitehouse joined a group of 14 Democrats who supported Trump’s pick. The final tally was 66-32.

In a statement, the Rhode Island chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America described itself as “shocked and appalled” by the two senators’ votes for Pompeo, particularly in light of his expressed views on the use of torture.

“When blue-state Democrats back-stab our party on this vote, they send Trump bipartisan support for his agenda of crushing the independence of the intelligence community,” Bill Deware, who recently took over as the progressive group’s coordinator, said in the statement.

Reed serves as an ex officio member of the Senate Intelligence Committee because of his position as ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and has spoken out in recent weeks about Russian interference in last year’s election. Whitehouse previously served on the intelligence panel, as well, and sometimes takes a less liberal line on military and law-enforcement issues.

In a statement Tuesday, Whitehouse distanced himself from Trump’s choice. “Mike Pompeo would not have been my choice to lead the CIA,” he said.

However, Whitehouse said, “Director Pompeo does know the intelligence community well and can be a check on dangerous impulses from the Trump White House.” He also said Pompeo had agreed to “abide by the clear legal prohibition on waterboarding and other harsh and ineffective interrogation techniques used by the CIA during the Bush administration.”

Chip Unruh, a spokesman for Reed, said the senator has significant disagreements with Pompeo and plans to “provide strong oversight and accountability” of the intelligence services.

“But in public testimony and in face to face conversations, Mr. Pompeo pledged to be an independent voice at the CIA, to reject torture, and protect civil liberties,” Unruh said.

Reed and Whitehouse have backed all three Trump nominees who have had confirmation votes in the Senate vote so far, the other two being Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. However, Pompeo drew significantly more opposition from Democrats than Mattis or Kelly did.

Whitehouse said Tuesday he will vote against Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, and he’s also expressed “serious concerns” about Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy Devos.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram