Nominee to be CIA watchdog says he'll stand up to Trump

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The Hill

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asks questions during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense Spectrum Policy and the Impact of the Federal Communications Commission's Ligado Decision on National Security during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's nominee to be the CIA's chief watchdog is pledging independence, saying he will perform his role “in an unbiased and impartial manner, free of undue or inappropriate influences” by Trump or anyone else.

Peter Thomson, a New Orleans attorney and former federal prosecutor, faced skepticism about his ability to ward off presidential interference at a nomination hearing Wednesday.

Thomson's nomination as CIA inspector general comes as Trump is attacking the inspector general and whistleblower system. Trump has fired or replaced inspectors general across the federal government in recent months, including the former watchdogs for the intelligence community and State Department.

Trump's moves, made with little or no explanation, have drawn bipartisan criticism and spurred fears that the Republican president is moving to dismantle a post-Watergate network of watchdogs meant to root out corruption, fraud and other problems inside federal agencies.

“The job of an inspector general ... and protecting whistleblowers has never been more important,'' said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “But just doing that job can get you fired.”

Thomson's ability to ignore those threats "and aggressively pursue investigations wherever the facts may lead is at the heart of this confirmation process,'' Wyden said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

Thomson assured Wyden and other senators that he will be independent, even if it means he eventually gets fired. "If I was fired for doing my job in a lawful way, in an appropriate way, then I would be fired,'' Thomson said.

In a testy exchange with independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, Thomson denied that Trump or anyone else had asked him to pledge loyalty to the president. The White House Counsel's office interviewed him before his nomination, but he did not speak personally with Trump, Thomson said.