Trump's intelligence whisperer prepares for State role

CNN/ Newswire | 3/14/2018, 6:52 a.m.
As news of Donald Trump's upset victory flashed across the TV screen in front of him in November 2016, Mike ...
Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump, and Mike Pompeo

By Jeremy Diamond, CNN

(CNN) -- As news of Donald Trump's upset victory flashed across the TV screen in front of him in November 2016, Mike Pompeo watched in astonishment.

"This is crazy. I might actually get my dream job," Pompeo quipped, according to two sources familiar with his comments.

That "dream job," he joked, was deputy director of the CIA: It would put him in a top US intelligence community post without first having to undergo a grueling Senate confirmation. The reality was that Pompeo knew Trump's stunning victory could very well propel him to the director's office at Langley -- and within months it would do just that.

Now, just over 14 months into Trump's presidency, the former three-term Kansas congressman is continuing his meteoric rise, preparing to step into the role of America's top diplomat after Trump tapped him for the post on Tuesday. But unlike his beleaguered predecessor, Rex Tillerson, Pompeo is expected to wield broad influence with the President from his State Department perch, having built one of the closest relationships Trump maintains with any member of his Cabinet.

"Mike Pompeo ... is probably one of the most trusted inner-circle members of the current Cabinet," said Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, one of Trump's closest allies in Congress and a former colleague of Pompeo's. "They talk on a daily basis. The briefings the President gets from the CIA are given by Director Pompeo. ... He's trusted and he can speak frankly."

That trust will be critical as Trump embarks on the most significant diplomatic gambit of his presidency to date -- direct talks with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un -- and a host of other pernicious foreign policy issues, such as an upcoming deadline to renegotiate the Iranian nuclear deal.

An early rapport

The bond was forged early on, sources close to the two men said. Trump felt no need to interview additional candidates for the CIA director post after meeting with Pompeo. Long enamored with prestigious credentials, Trump immediately thought highly of Pompeo, who graduated first in his class at West Point military academy and attended Harvard Law. And the two men had similarly direct styles of speaking.

"I knew as soon as he walked in and looked at Trump, the deal was closed," one source close to Trump said. "He and Trump bonded from day one."

That obvious chemistry between the two men quickly came to mind for top White House aides after Trump emerged dissatisfied with his first intelligence briefing in office, a source familiar with the matter said.

The next day, Pompeo shuttled to the White House and delivered the briefing in person. It worked, and the routine has stuck ever since, with Pompeo trekking to the White House to deliver the President his daily intelligence briefing nearly every day.

"Everybody consumes information in different ways, and the way Donald Trump likes to consume information -- Mike Pompeo knows how to deliver it that way," a senior White House official explained. "Pompeo has built a rapport with him through months and months of doing that."