I want Donald Trump to be a successful president. I’m not eager to criticize him.
But watching his cabinet picks through my libertarian conservative lens, the president-elect is currently batting 500.
I have praised, to varying degrees, his choices of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, Gen. James Mattis as Defense Secretary, Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney as Budget Director. Fiscal hawk Mulvaney in particular is a real home run.
But Trump’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions for Attorney General should greatly concern anyone who cares about the Constitution and civil liberties. His reported choice of John Bolton for Deputy Secretary of State is worrisome for those who want to avoid another Iraq-style war. Trump’s pick for Homeland Security, Gen. John Kelly, is a retrograde drug warrior whose appointment coincides with a time in American culture when marijuana is being legalized in many states and becoming more socially acceptable.
Then there’s Trump’s reported CIA pick, Rep. Mike Pompeo.
When Edward Snowden first alerted us in 2013 that the U.S. government was collecting citizens’ metadata en masse, the public was outraged. When government officials were asked point blank by Congress if they were spying on Americans in this way prior to Snowden’s revelation, they lied.
Why would they lie to begin with? Because they knew it was wrong and illegal.
That’s why Snowden came forward with the information he had. He did us all a favor. Polls showed the majority of Americans reject mass blanket surveillance.
Mike Pompeo wants to execute Edward Snowden and firmly re-establish mass surveillance as the law of the land in a way that goes even further.
In an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal in January, Pompeo wrote (emphasis added), “Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database.”
“Combining” of all one’s metadata could be even more dangerous than what the government has already done (if it’s not doing this secretly already). Coordinating individuals’ metadata into government databases means virtually anything we do—what we read, where we shop, who our doctor is, who we chat with online, who we call on the phone, who we date—becomes government info.
Pompeo added in his Wall Street Journal op-ed that, all “Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”
We can assume the U.S. Constitution, which contains the Bill of Rights, which contains the Fourth Amendment that forbids unreasonable “search and seizure” of private property and information is a “legal and bureaucratic impediment” to Pompeo’s surveillance wishes.
Pompeo wrote later at the National Review, “To share Edward Snowden’s vision of America as the problem is to come down on the side of President Obama’s diminishing willingness to collect intelligence on jihadis.”
Like many Republican security hawks, Pompeo doesn’t understand that the purpose of the Constitution and our Bill of Rights isn’t to protect terrorists, but innocent citizens from rogue, unlimited government power.
Mike Pompeo ain’t got time for that.
Worse, Trump and some of cabinet picks might not either. The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell observes, “Pompeo’s push for more surveillance aligns with Trump’s stated positions. As the journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, proposed an amendment to a bill that would reform electronic privacy law, which would have required technology companies to turn over communications if the government says it’s an emergency. The amendment did not pass.”
Sen. Rand Paul, who has already promised to attempt to block John Bolton from any post at the State Department has also vowed to hold Pompeo accountable for his positions on mass surveillance and also the use of torture, the latter of which, not surprisingly, Pompeo is a fan.
No one, including me, expected President Trump to be a civil libertarian. But our most basic rights to privacy and liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution should withstand any administration.
As a member of Congress, we know Mike Pompeo took an oath to uphold our nation’s founding charter. If he is chosen to head Central Intelligence, we already know ahead of time that he will be another member of President Trump’s cabinet who has no intention of obeying it.
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”