Committee approves Trump’s CIA director nominee, setting up full Senate vote
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10-5 behind closed doors Wednesday to advance Gina Haspel’s nomination as President Donald Trump’s CIA director pick, advancing the nominee to a full floor vote where she looks all but assured to win Senate confirmation.
Two of the committee’s seven Democrats have said they are supporting Haspel, including Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel. Haspel currently has more than enough support to win confirmation, as Warner was one of three Democrats to announce Tuesday that they were voting for her, bringing the total to five.
Two Republicans, Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and John McCain of Arizona, are opposed to Haspel’s nomination, and McCain isn’t expected to be back in Washington for the vote while he battles brain cancer. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, McCain’s Arizona colleague, has said he’s undecided.
The committee voted Wednesday in a closed session before a hearing on the intelligence community’s assessment of 2017 Russian election meddling, in which former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers are testifying.
With a positive committee vote, the full Senate could vote on Haspel’s confirmation as early as Thursday, according to Senate aides, although that would require cooperation from senators to waive the chamber’s procedural hurdles for a quick vote.
The vote for Haspel is shaping up to be similar to last month’s tally for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was confirmed with the backing of six Democrats from states Trump won in 2016, five of whom are up for re-election this year. Of those six Democrats, four have said they are voting for Haspel, Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama is opposing her and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is undecided.
Haspel faces opposition from a majority of Democrats and human rights groups for her role in the George W. Bush administration’s interrogation and detention program, which critics say amounted to torture. Haspel has been criticized for supervising a CIA black site in Thailand where detainees were brutally interrogated, as well as for her role in the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes.
At her confirmation hearing last week, Haspel faced sharp questions from Democrats about whether she thought the interrogation program was immoral. Haspel danced around those queries by saying she would not restart the program and that she supports the current “stricter moral standard” after Congress changed the law.
Haspel’s critics have also complained that the CIA has chosen to selectively release information about Haspel’s 33-year CIA career in order to put her in a positive light. Several Democrats and at least one Republican say the full Senate should have access to a classified Justice Department report written by John Durham, the special prosecutor who investigated the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes but did not bring charges. The intelligence panel was given a copy of the report summary.
But the Democrats backing Haspel have pointed to her endorsement from a wide range of former intelligence officials, including top Obama administration officials, as well as an acknowledgment in a Tuesday letter that she believed the interrogation program was damaging and shouldn’t have been conducted, something she didn’t say at her public hearing.
“I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the President if ordered to do something illegal or immoral — like a return to torture,” Warner said in explaining his decision to vote for her.