Since taking charge at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Director Mike Pompeo has earned a reputation as a strong ally of President Donald Trump, despite breaking with the American leader on some key issues.
When asked Thursday about media reports of Pompeo's possible nomination as U.S. Secretary of State, both the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had no comment.
Upon nominating Pompeo to lead the CIA last November, Trump said the graduate of the U.S. Military Academy "has served our country with honor and spent his life fighting for the security of our citizens. … He will be a brilliant and unrelenting leader for our intelligence community to ensure the safety of Americans and our allies."
Since then, the 53-year-old former three-term congressman from the Midwestern state of Kansas apparently has continued to win Trump's favor while giving him the CIA's daily intelligence briefings in person at the White House, rather than delegating that responsibility to a staff aide.
Known for his tough views on terrorism, torture and Iran, Pompeo previously served on the House Intelligence Committee, and quickly won praise from former intelligence officials and lawmakers alike.
And in his first public comments after being sworn-in, Pompeo seemed to cement additional support, backing conclusions by U.S. intelligence agencies about the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks and its connections to Moscow.
"It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is — a non-state, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia," he told a forum this past April.
"It overwhelmingly focuses on the United States while seeking support from anti-democratic countries and organizations," he added, calling the celebration of WikiLeaks in some circles "perplexing and deeply troubling."
Pompeo on Russia
But at other times, Pompeo has garnered criticism for expressing views that seemed more in line with those of the White House, sometimes contradicting the CIA's own findings.
"The Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election," Pompeo told an audience in Washington in October.
But an unclassified report by the top U.S. intelligence agencies issued in January made no such claim.
"We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election," the report said.
Later, the CIA sought to clarify Pompeo's comments.
"The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed, and the director did not intend to suggest that it had," a CIA spokesman said.
At other times, Pompeo has publicly refused to rule out working with Russia in areas such as counterterrorism.
"If Russia has information that can help us fight the CT [counterterror] fight around the world, it's my duty" to work with them and "the right thing to do," he said.
Pompeo also was criticized following a report by The Intercept that at the request of the president, he met with a former intelligence official who has been arguing U.S. intelligence officials are unfairly blaming Russia for the leak of Democratic National Committee emails.
Iran, North Korea and counterterror
At the same time, the CIA director has been applauded by some for what they have called a clear-eyed view of U.S. adversaries like Iran, continuing his criticism of the Iran nuclear deal, and North Korea.
"We ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them [North Korea] achieving that objective," Pompeo said last month when asked about Pyongyang's pursuit of missile technology that could launch a warhead to targets in the United States.
"They are so far along in that it's now a matter of thinking about how do you stop the final step?" he added.
Before his confirmation as CIA director, some critics also voiced concerns about his stance on the use of torture.
Those involved in the CIA interrogation program "are not torturers, they are patriots," Pompeo said in 2014, adding that the programs were "within the law, within the Constitution and conducted with the full knowledge" of appropriate lawmakers.
During his confirmation hearing, Pompeo told senators he would "absolutely not" bring back such interrogation techniques.
Pompeo, a graduate of Harvard Law School, also drew criticism in 2013 after he suggested Muslim leaders who didn't publicly condemn terror attacks were "potentially complicit" in the attacks.
Sessions, who has been offered the job of attorney general in Donald Trump’s cabinet, is known as one of the most rightwing and anti-immigration members of the Senate.
He was born in 1946 in Selma, Alabama, site of the start of the historic civil rights march to Montgomery in 1965.
In 1986, in a rare move, his nomination by Ronald Reagan to be a federal judge was rejected by Congress after several attorneys testified that he had made racist comments.
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Justice department official Gerald Hebert claimed Sessions had described respected civil rights campaigns the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union as “communist inspired” and “un-American”.
At his confirmation hearing Sessions did not help his cause by seeking to clarify his stance. He claimed he had never called the groups un-American, but that: “I said that they take positions that are considered un-American. They hurt themselves; they lose credibility. And many people do think that some of those positions they take are against the national interests of the United States.”
He said he could not remember calling them “a commie group and a pinko organisation”, but added: “I am loose with my tongue on occasion, and I may have said something similar to that or could be interpreted to that.”
A prosecutor, Thomas H Figures, told congress Sessions had thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot”. Sessions said he had been joking and that the comment was so ludicrous he could not think anyone would take him seriously.
Figures, an African-American, also testified that Sessions had called him “boy”. Sessions denied the claim.
Reflecting on the hearings in 2009, Sessions said the allegations made were “heartbreaking”. “That was not fair, that was not accurate. Those were false charges using distortions of anything that I did. And it really was not. I never had those kinds of views, and I was caricatured in a way that was not me,” he told CNN at the time.
But the memories linger. Hebert told the New York Times on 16 November that the prospect of Sessions as attorney general was a “frightening thought”.
Sessions, who has been a senator for Alabama for nearly 20 years after practising law in the state, has long campaigned for strict controls on immigration. Last year he wrote a 25-page report blaming immigration for job losses and welfare dependency.
The Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority argues for limiting work visas and “establishing firm control over entry and exit in the United States”.
Sessions wrote: “For decades, the American people have begged and pleaded for a just and lawful system of immigration that serves their interests – but their demands are refused. For years, Americans have been scorned and mocked by the elite denizens of Washington and Wall Street for having legitimate concerns about how uncontrolled immigration impacts their jobs, wages, schools, hospitals, police departments, and communities.”
A retired army lieutenant general, Flynn has been offered the job of national security adviser. The 57-year-old was the only national security figure of his rank to publicly align himself with Trump and remained loyal to the businessman throughout his campaign.
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While other national security experts criticised and denounced the GOP nominee, Flynn took part in campaign rallies where he led chants against Hillary Clinton, including those that called for her to be locked up. “The enemy camp in this case is Hillary Rodham Clinton,” Flynn said in Florida during the summer.
The three-star general also delivered what was reported to be a “fiery” speech at the Republican national convention, where he lambasted Barack Obama’s “empty speeches and his misguided rhetoric”, which he said had “caused the world to have no respect for America’s word”, or might.
Flynn, who in 2015 declared himself a registered Democrat, held senior positions in the 18th Airborne Corps, at the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon and at US central command, which runs US military operations in the Middle East.
He served as a top intelligence adviser to Gen Stanley McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan. Between 2012 and 2014, he ran the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), one of the highest positions a military intelligence officer can attain, but his tenure was cut short over clashes with top Obama administration officials. One of the people who played a leading role in Flynn’s departure was James Clapper, the director of national intelligence who announced his resignation on Thursday.
Flynn has since proven himself to be a controversial figure and public opponent of Obama’s foreign policy. In his 2016 book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, co-authored with the historian and former Reagan administration official Michael Ledeen, he wrote that he is “not a devotee of so-called political correctness”.
He has come under fire for regularly appearing on Russian state-owned television station RT, and once attended a gala hosted by the channel, sitting two places away from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He later said his speaker’s bureau had arranged his trip to Russia and that he saw no distinction between RT and other news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC.
Flynn was once opposed to waterboarding and other banned extreme interrogation techniques, but, according to the Washington Post, in reference to Trump’s previously stated openness to reinstating such techniques, he said he “would be reluctant to take options off the table”. Asked by al-Jazeera if he would support Trump’s threat to kill the families of suspected terrorists, he said: “I would have to see the circumstances of that situation.”
In July, Flynn retweeted an antisemitic post by a Trump supporter who mocked the Clinton campaign’s blaming of Russian hackers for leaked emails. The tweet, by a pseudonymous user, read: “CNN implicated. ‘The USSR is to blame!’ Not anymore, Jews. Not anymore.” Flynn later deleted his retweet and apologised, saying it was a mistake and that he had meant to link to an article on Clinton and the DNC emails.
Flynn advised Trump on foreign policy throughout the course of the presidential campaign and was even rumoured to be on the shortlist for vice-president. If picked as national security adviser, Flynn would oversee about 400 people.
Pompeo, offered the job of CIA chief, has been the Republican representative for Kansas’s 4th congressional district since 2011.
The 52-year-old is a Harvard law graduate who represents the Wichita area in the House. He is a member of the conservative Tea Party movement and served as a Kansas representative on the Republican National Committee.
Pompeo originally backed Marco Rubio for the GOP nomination but later supported Trump following his victory in the primaries. “You have seen him make good decisions in his business life, his family life – with his children, so I am excited for a commander in chief who fearlessly puts America out in front,” Pompeo said of Trump in July.
But he has not been afraid to criticise the president-elect, and when a 2005 tape emerged of Trump boasting of groping and kissing women without their consent, Pompeo called the comments “horrible, offensive and indefensible”.
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As a congressional candidate in 2010, Pompeo had to personally apologise for a tweet his campaign sent out promoting an article that called his opponent Raj Goyle, an Indian-American Democrat, a “turban topper” who “could be a muslim, a hindy, a buddhist etc who knows”. His campaign also put up billboard ads encouraging people in the area to “vote American”.
Pompeo is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, which endorsed him for Congress. He is also a hardliner on abortion, keen to ban it in all instances except where the mother’s life is at risk. He has also voted against the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. He opposed closing Guantánamo Bay, and after a 2013 visit to the prison, said of prisoners who were on hunger strike: “It looked to me like a lot of them had put on weight.”
In 2013, Pompeo was widely criticised by Democrats and the Council on American-Islamic Relations for saying that Muslim clerics who did not properly chastise Islamic terrorists were “complicit” in terror attacks.
Pompeo told the floor of the House: “When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith, and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on that faith’s leaders to respond. Instead, their silence has made most Islamic leaders across America complicit in these acts.”
He is staunchly against the Iran deal and in an op-ed for Fox News in July, wrote that the deal puts the US at increased risk. “Congress must act to change Iranian behaviour, and, ultimately, the Iranian regime,” he wrote.
Before joining Congress, Pompeo ran an oilfield supply and distribution company and has been a stalwart critic of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate carbon emissions.
Earlier this year it was thought he would enter the race against US senator Jerry Moran in the primaries but in the end he decided not to. “The 85 days remaining before the first votes are cast plus my especially consuming commitments to current duties on the Benghazi committee, the house intelligence committee and a new investigatory intelligence task force will preclude the kind of campaign that Kansans deserve,” Pompeo said in a statement.
• This article was amended on 18 November 2016. An earlier version said incorrectly that James Clapper was the CIA director.