Dems question Pompeo about Russia probe during confirmation grilling

Democrats wanted to know where Pompeo stands on Syria, North Korea and Iran.

CIA director Mike Pompeo faced a sometimes testy Senate confirmation hearing Thursday in his quest to become the next secretary of state.

The 21 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee lobbed questions at Pompeo on topics ranging from his views on the special counsel investigating alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign to a possible U.S. strike in Syria to his stance on gay marriage.

Pompeo, who remained relatively calm and collected throughout the grilling, seemed to come away largely unscathed.

"The Pompeo I hear today, much more different than some of the Pompeo of the past," Ranking Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said in his closing remarks.

"And so, I'm trying to figure out which is the one that's going to act if he gets confirmed as the Secretary of State. Because some of these things of the past, I could never support. Some of the things you've said here today, I could actually be supportive of. So I hope you can help me understand this as we move forward in your nomination," Menendez said.

Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ended the hearing with a show of support.

"I plan to avidly support your nomination and confirmation," Corker said.

"As the Senate considers your nomination to be the president’s top foreign policy advisor, we must ask: will you enable President Trump’s worst instincts?" Menendez asked at the top of the hearing.

“Will you stand up to President Trump and say: ‘No, you are wrong in that view’? Or will you be a yes man?" Menendez asked.

It was a sentiment even Corker, a one-time Trump critic, emphasized.

Corker said " times, the president may act or speak impulsively. We have seen that good counsel has led the president to evolve – from my perspective to a much better place – on a number of important issues, Corker said.

"I believe the next Secretary of State must continue to provide such counsel, even when it is difficult. If confirmed, you must continue to provide advice to the president that allows him to view a given situation holistically and not make decisions that focus on the impact to one domestic group or foreign government," he said.

Democrats homed in on Pompeo's stance on special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and what he thinks about Trump's threats to fire him.

New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen asked Pompeo: "You graduated from Harvard law school, you're an attorney. Do you think special counsel Mueller's investigation is a witch hunt?

"Ma'am, I'm going to not speak about any of the three investigations that I have been a participant in today," Pompeo responded.

Shaheen pressed him: "Do you think the president has the authority, recognizing your legal background, does the president have the authority to fire special counsel Mueller on his own?

"I'm in no position to make a comment on that legal question," he answered.

Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, asked, "Do you believe special counsel Mueller's investigation is an attack on our country and all we stand for?" quoting Trump referring to the FBI raid on the office and home of his private attorney Michael Cohen.

"I hope you'll take this the right way. As the director of the C.I.A. I've been involved in that investigation," Pompeo said. "Anything I say with respect -- I want to avoid that today. I apologize I can't speak more fully..."

When Coons asked, should Trump try to fire Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, "would you resign your post as secretary of state in order to demonstrate that we are a nation of laws, not of men?" Pompeo answered, "Senator, I haven't given that question thought. My instincts tell me no. My instincts tell me my obligation to continue to serve as America's senior diplomat will be more important as increased times of turmoil."

Earlier, Menendez asked him whether, as CIA director, Trump had asked him to try to interfere in then-FBI director James Comey's Russia investigation.

"Did he ask you to do anything as it relates to that investigation?" asked Menendez.

Pompeo answered, "I don't recall. I don't recall what he asked me that day precisely, but I have to tell you I'm with the president an awful lot. He has never asked me to do anything that I considered remotely improper."

Pompeo did say he has spoken with Mueller but wouldn't reveal more.

Democrats have been quick to point out that his role as the nation’s top spy is notably different from what would be required of him as the nation’s top diplomat.

“In a couple areas, he professed he did not know the current status,” Cardin said, but he went on to say Pompeo was knowledgeable about intelligence issues, and that he hasn’t had much time to get up to speed.

In a letter sent to the committee on Monday, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on Pompeo to repudiate some of his views.

“Mr. Pompeo’s long, documented record of anti-Muslim prejudice threatens to undermine the essential work our Secretary of State does in representing American interests and values abroad,” Greenblatt said.

“In our view, it is essential for the nominee to repudiate his past anti-LGBT and anti-Muslim views and to renounce any associations with anti-Muslim conspiracy-haunted organizations.”

At the hearing, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker asked Pompeo if he believed being gay is an act of perversion. He also asked Pompeo if he believed every Muslim has an "obligation" to denounce acts of terrorism, and if they are complicit if they don't speak up.

Pompeo said he continues to believe gay people should not be allowed to get married. And he said Muslims have an "opportunity" to speak up when acts of violence occur.

The path to Pompeo's confirmation as the next secretary of state looks to be razor thin.

But before the full Senate will vote on his confirmation, the Foreign Relations panel will also have to weigh in. It’s unclear at this time if Pompeo even has the votes to clear the 21-member panel since Paul, as a member of the committee, is a "no."

Very few nominations have proceeded without approval from committees, but chamber rules make it possible that the full Senate can still vote on Pompeo’s confirmation should he receive an unfavorable recommendation or no recommendation at all.

Trump ousted Tillerson thanks to a fraught relationship further marred by disagreements on major foreign policy issues involving Iran, North Korea, climate and trade, as well as reports that Tillerson had called the president a “moron.”

Meanwhile, Pompeo and Trump are fast friends.

While serving as CIA director, Trump requested Pompeo to give him his intelligence briefings in person multiple times per week.

Pompeo, who served as a member of the House prior to being named CIA director, was confirmed by the Senate in 2017 in a 66-32 vote, with a majority of Democrats voting against him.

Pompeo will once again need a majority vote to secure confirmation in the Senate.

ABC News' Ali Rogin contributed to this story.