Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo leaves a meeting with Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
WASHINGTON — CIA Director Mike Pompeo failed to disclose last year that he owned a Kansas business that imported oilfield equipment from a company owned by the Chinese government.
That omission, on the questionnaire Pompeo was required to fill out for Senate confirmation to lead the spy agency, could cause a problem for him in Thursday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be President Trump’s Secretary of State.
The issue with the Chinese company, which was confirmed in a series of documents obtained by McClatchy this week, never came up during his confirmation hearings last year. Many senators contacted Wednesday were reluctant to comment until they had more information.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a committee member, said he was unfamiliar with the discrepancy, but said it was troubling.
"If there’s an inconsistency in his questionnaire, that would be a matter of major interest," Cardin said.
With Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out battling cancer, Pompeo needs some Democrats to be confirmed. Already, Democrats who voted for Pompeo last year but are vulnerable in this year’s congressional elections are wary about committing to the former Kansas congressman this time.
He was confirmed as CIA director last year by a vote of 66 to 32, with 14 Democrats voting for him.
"Mr. Pompeo was president of an American company in Kansas that sold products made in many different countries, Canada and China to name just two. In fact, the paper clips the company used were from Taiwan," a CIA spokesman said. "He would have no reason to know details on the layers of companies that may or may not have had ownership interests in each overseas company that supplied products to his Kansas company."
Pompeo’s new questionnaire submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his new job nomination is not publicly available.
Last year the questionnaire he filled out for the Senate intelligence committee asked: "During the past 10 years, have you or your spouse received any compensation from, or been involved in any financial or business transactions with, a foreign government or any entity controlled by a foreign government? If so, please provide details." He answered "no."
Pompeo, a three-term congressman from Wichita, Kan., served as president of Sentry International, which manufactures and sells oilfield equipment, from 2006 to 2010. In November 2006, he registered SJ Petro Pump Investment LLC in Kansas. Pompeo and Sentry were both listed as owners of SJ Petro in its 2007 annual report filed with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.
In 2008, he was no longer listed as owning more than 5 percent of the company but was still a signing member. SJ Petro, or SJ Petroleum Machinery Co., is a subsidiary of Sinopec, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. It was majority owned by China Petrochemical Corporation, a state owned enterprise, according to its 2008 annual report.
Sinopec hired a lobbyist in Washington to represent the company in a variety of issues, including energy, trade, deregulation, in front of the Trump administration and Congress in May 2016.
In 2010, Pompeo’s Democratic challenger for his House seat, Raj Goyle, criticized Pompeo’s ownership of a company that acted as an agent for a Chinese oilfield equipment manufacturer. Pompeo described the Chinese company as a supplier to his company, according to an October 2010 story in The Wichita Eagle.
Pompeo, a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate, was elected to Congress in 2010 on a wave of tea party support and with backing from the Koch Industries political action committee. Pompeo’s salary from Sentry International in 2010 was $238,364, according his 2010 financial disclosure report.
"Mike Pompeo lied about his business deals with a company owned by the Chinese government, so we can only imagine what else he isn’t being honest about," said Harrell Kirstein, a spokesman for the Trump War Room director at American Bridge 21st Century, one of the liberal groups opposing his nomination. "What we do know is his former business partners (Sinopec) are spending more than $30,000 a month lobbying the Trump administration, and probably drooling over the idea of installing their pal as secretary of State."
Cardin, who opposed Pompeo as CIA director because of his defense of torture to extract information from terror suspects, said he hasn’t decided how he’ll vote on Pompeo’s nomination to lead the State Department, saying he has "a lot of questions."
He said Pompeo’s nomination presents challenges, including how strongly he will stand up to Trump if he disagrees with him, particularly on the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea and climate change. Pompeo’s supporters and his critics stepped up their campaigns ahead of the committee hearing. Liberal activists have pressured Senate Democrats to block Pompeo’s nomination, citing his support for expanding mass surveillance programs and defense of the CIA’s past use of torture.