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Pompeo vows to confront Russia, dodges Mueller questions

UPDATED: Thu., April 12, 2018, 9:30 p.m.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, picked to be the next secretary of state, listens during his introductions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Secretary of State, Thursday, April 12, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, picked to be the next secretary of state, listens during his introductions before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a confirmation hearing on his nomination to be Secretary of State, Thursday, April 12, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)
By Josh Lederman and Matthew Lee Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Aiming to quell concerns before what is likely to be a narrow confirmation vote, Secretary of State-designate Mike Pompeo vowed on Thursday to ramp up efforts against Russia in “each place we confront them.” But he ducked and dodged when asked whether he supports President Donald Trump’s pounding criticism of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Pompeo, now Trump’s CIA chief, tread carefully when confronted with several of the president’s controversial and undiplomatic statements, focusing instead on his plans to rebuild a depleted agency and restore its influence. Pompeo suggested he did not share all the president’s views – including his skepticism about Russia’s interference.

“I take a back seat to no one” when it comes to standing up to Russia, Pompeo said.

However, when asked if he would resign if Trump moved to scuttle the probe by firing special counsel Robert Mueller or the deputy attorney general to whom he reports, he said no.

Pompeo’s nomination faces stiff opposition from a handful of Republicans and many Democrats as well as supporters of the Iran nuclear deal, environmentalists and minority rights groups, and his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appeared designed to blunt their criticism. The CIA chief told senators that he has been miscast as a “hawk” despite previous comments savaging the Iran accord and hinting at regime change in North Korea. He maintained he wants to improve the Iran deal and would continue efforts to do so even if Trump withdraws from it as he has threatened.

In his testimony, Pompeo confirmed for the first time publicly that he’s been interviewed by the team of special counsel Mueller, who is investigating possible ties between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign as well as possible obstruction of justice issues. But he wouldn’t answer questions about the contents of the interview, arguing it would be improper since, as CIA director in charge of overseas intelligence gathering, he has been a “participant” in Mueller’s probe.

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