Tom Cotton would be a terrible pick to lead the CIA AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., questions Army Lt. Gen. John Nicholson Jr., as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, before the the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing considering his promotion to General, Commander, Resolute Support. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

This season of “White House: The Trump Years” is all about drama between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a story line that has produced some truly made-for-TV moments.

It has also produced rumors that Tillerson may not be secretary of state much longer. On Monday, Axios reported (citing radio host Hugh Hewitt and MSNBC) that Trump is considering CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be Tillerson’s successor, and that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) might take Pompeo’s current job.

Setting aside Tillerson’s merits or lack thereof, this is an awful idea in every way.

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First, let’s revisit Pompeo’s record. As Rare’s Jack Hunter has documented, Pompeo “wants to execute Edward Snowden and firmly re-establish mass surveillance as the law of the land,” giving the federal government expansive new powers to spy on Americans. Then, as Pompeo himself explained in an op-ed, he wants to dump all the data collected into a single, enormous database, “combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information” to give the feds a really well-rounded view of our private lives.

And that’s not all. Earlier this year, Pompeo suggested in a speech that Washington should be permitted to decide what counts as a real media outlet and limit First Amendment rights accordingly. Oh, and though he promised Congress in January he wouldn’t illegally torture people at Trump’s request, Pompeo’s history of defending the CIA’s use of torture suggests “illegally” was more his sticking point than, you know, the actual torture.

Pompeo never should have been confirmed as CIA director, and installing him in the nation’s most prestigious Cabinet position would make a bad situation worse. Whether or not Tillerson is the best man for the job, Pompeo is decidedly not.


And then there’s Cotton. He has all of Trump’s authoritarian instincts, but in Cotton they’re gussied up into mainstream respectability by the senator’s staid manner and personal background at Harvard and in military service.

But make no mistake, Cotton’s record gives Pompeo’s a run for its money. He shares Pompeo’s disinterest in protecting our privacy and constitutional rights against state overreach. He opposes basic criminal justice reform measures, even those backed by fellow Republicans, claiming police should be permitted to treat citizens as like enemy combatants and that the United States has an “under-incarceration problem.” (Uh, no.)

Most egregious of all may be Cotton’s foreign policy views, which distill the worst of post-9/11 interventionism into an aggressive, irrational essence. Reason’s Matt Welch made the definitive list illustrating this point back in 2015. An excerpt of his accounting of what Cotton believes:

  • That “we should be proud for the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay,” and that “the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is that there are too many empty beds.”
  • That the National Security Agency needs to be able to collect bulk metadata on unsuspecting Americans, because: “Folks, we are at war. You may not like that truth … Do not take this tool away from our warriors on the front lines.”
  • That defense spending needs to be jacked up: “We need to restore money not only cut by the sequester but the $1 trillion [reduced before that].”
  • That, “Far from restraining the use of drones […] through unwise and unconstitutional mechanisms, we should continue and probably expand their use in our war against radical Islam.”
  • That Iraq was a “just and noble war.”

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In short, Cotton may well be sincere and well-intentioned in his efforts to advance his principles in Washington — but that doesn’t mean he should succeed.

Tom Cotton is a terrible pick to head up the CIA; if he’s going to leave the Senate, it should be to head on home to Arkansas for private sector work where he can’t spy on people or endanger their lives with endless wars of choice.

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