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Senate Democrats question independence of Trump's CIA nominee

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic U.S. senators on Wednesday questioned whether President Donald Trump’s nominee to be CIA inspector general could act independently, after the president dismissed several officials responsible for investigating fraud and abuse at federal agencies.

“I’ll be looking today for you to explain why we can trust you to be independent in how you go about your responsibilities,” Senator Mark Warner, Democratic vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told Peter Thomson at his confirmation hearing.

Trump has dismissed a series of government watchdogs in recent months. Members of Congress, including some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, are concerned the dismissals will prevent independent, adequate oversight of the government.

Thomson, an attorney from New Orleans who spent 23 years as a federal prosecutor, would be the first confirmed inspector general at the Central Intelligence Agency in years.

The agency has not had a permanent inspector general since 2015, and the last acting CIA inspector general resigned two years ago.

There is also no confirmed IG for the entire intelligence community. In April, Trump fired Michael Atkinson from the position over his handling of a whistleblower complaint that helped trigger Trump’s impeachment late last year.

Thomson was questioned about Trump’s criticism of the intelligence community and assertions by the president and his allies that there is a “Deep State” conspiring against the president.

Thomson said he did not know how to respond. “I honestly don’t know what is meant by ‘Deep State,’” he told Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Thomson promised independence, saying, “No one from the White House ever gave me any kind of a litmus test or loyalty test to the president at all.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the intelligence committee’s acting chairman, said he would move quickly toward Thomson’s confirmation vote in the full Republican-controlled Senate.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Paul Simao

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