Democrats loyal to former President Barack Obama are waging a behind-the-scenes effort to undermine President Donald Trump's national security team by blocking key appointees, according to multiple sources familiar with the outgoing administration's efforts.
The centerpiece of this obstruction is the recent refusal by Senate Democrats to quickly confirm incoming CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Democratic leaders—including Sens. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), and Patrick Leahy (Vt.)—postponed Pompeo's confirmation, claiming they need more time to debate the pick, which is widely supported by a majority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
The decision to stall Pompeo's vote, a move that will leave the critical post of CIA director vacant as Trump takes office, is part of a wider effort by the outgoing administration and its allies to hamstring Trump on the national security front, according to multiple sources, including those close to the Trump administration.
Gen. Michael Hayden, a former CIA director who served under former Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, told the Washington Free Beacon that he is "puzzled by the objections recently raised" by Senate Democrats.
"It's hell being the political football," Hayden said Saturday afternoon, ahead of a visit by both Trump and Pompeo to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
Democrats cited Hayden's role under Bush and Obama as a precedent for Pompeo's holdup.
"Just as Director Hayden served as a bridge between the Bush and Obama presidencies eight years ago, Director [John] Brennan could play the same role for the incoming and outgoing administrations, if the President is willing to keep him on," Matt House, a Schumer spokesman, said in a recent press statement.
Democrats opposing Pompeo have expressed concerns about his desire to combat terrorism by boosting the collection of personal data in the United States. They also have raised concerns about Pompeo's stance on enhanced interrogation techniques.
Hayden dismissed these concerns, saying Democratic talking points on the matter are unconvincing.
"With regard to interrogations and surveillance, Congressman Pompeo said that he would follow the law. If his intelligence professionals advised him that current law denied him intelligence opportunities that would be otherwise available, he would so advise the Congress so that they could discuss and debate whether changes in the law might be indicated," Hayden said. "That is the essence of a professional carrying out his duty within the American political context."
There is nothing abnormal about Pompeo's desire to potentially strengthen the interrogation techniques available to the U.S. military, Hayden said.
"No one could reasonably argue that the current army field manual exhausts all legally available interrogation techniques," he explained. "If director Pompeo and his professionals judged that America was measurably less safe because of the current limitations, their duty would be to inform the president and the Congress of that judgment. They of course would live with the decision of their political and policy masters. What could possibly be controversial about that?"
The campaign to delay Pompeo's confirmation appears to be just one piece of a larger effort aimed at undermining Trump's national security team, multiple sources told the Free Beacon.
There is evidence Obama's outgoing administration took steps to complicate and delay the building of Trump's new team, according to one veteran foreign policy insider who has been in close contact with Trumps' national security transition team.
"Something strange is going on," the source, who is not authorized to speak on the record, said. "The Trump folks keep loading up accounts and looking at specific jobs, and they're not finding anything like what should be there. It's like the Obama national security team went out of their way to cripple the transition on the way out."
A senior congressional aide familiar with the efforts to hold up Pompeo's confirmation vote told the Free Beacon that Democrats are playing politics with America's national security.
"This is nothing more than an exercise in partisan showmanship," the source said. "Senate Democrats know Pompeo is wholly qualified for this job and that he'll eventually be confirmed."
"Playing politics with this confirmation only jeopardizes our national security at a time when the United States faces a multitude of security challenges," added the congressional source, who asked not to be named so he could speak freely. "They should drop this charade and confirm him."