Live coverage: Trump CIA pick faces Senate grilling
President Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, will be grilled by senators Wednesday at a hearing expected to center on her role in the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush administration.
Haspel, a 33-year career veteran of the agency, faces a difficult confirmation battle given the GOP’s narrow 51-49 majority. She almost certainly will need support from Democrats to be confirmed given Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) expected “no” vote and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) absence from the Senate.
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are likely to press for answers on her background, but it’s not clear how much Haspel will be able to detail publicly given that some of the subject matter could be considered classified.
Burr bangs his gavel, marking an end of Haspel’s open hearing
With a bang of his gavel, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) wraps up Haspel’s public confirmation hearing.
Burr told reporters yesterday that he expects the panel to vote on her confirmation next week.
Haspel and the senators on the Intel panel still have a closed session where they can go over sensitive details about her work for the spy agency.
After the open hearing, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) declined to say if he supports or opposes Haspel, saying he wants more “clarity” from Haspel in closed session particularly whether she would follow an immoral order.
Burr highlights how Haspel would be first female CIA chief in closing remarks
In his closing remarks, Burr highlighted how Haspel will become the first female CIA director if she is confirmed.
Burr described how there is a hallway in the CIA’s old headquarters building that holds a series of portraits depicting former directors, who have been loved and hated, and who have failed and succeeded.
“But one thing is common: all of the portraits are men,” Burr said.
“Many want to make your nomination about one small piece of agency’s past, most of us though are looking toward the agency’s future,” he said.
Shortly before these remarks, Burr had emphasized how Haspel may be “the most qualified nominee ever nominated for this role.”
He noted that other women at the agency have cracked the glass ceiling at the CIA, but Haspel is poised to “break it” if confirmed.
Cotton interrupts Warner’s closing remarks
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) interrupted Warner as he delivered closing remarks, hammering the point that former CIA Director John Brennan supports Haspel’s nomination.
Warner was discussing how Brennan, who led the agency in the final years of the Obama administration, had repudiated enhanced interrogation techniques in his confirmation hearing before the Senate.
That rebuke factored into the decisions of some lawmakers who voted to confirm him, Warner said.
Cotton interjected, noting that Brennan has backed Haspel’s nomination.
“And that would be the same Mr. Brennan who supports her nomination,” Cotton said, interrupting Warner.
“Excuse me, sir. Excuse me,” Warner replied.
That prompted an intervention from Burr, who ordered Cotton to suspend.
“We need the full record, on the record,” Cotton said. “John Brennan supports her nomination.”
Burr calls for closing statements
Burr is preparing to end the open session. The committee will move into closed session shortly thereafter.
In his closing remarks, Burr requested Haspel to detail the identities of two key al Qaeda operatives discussed in the open hearing — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind Sept. 11, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who led the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
Anti-torture protesters again disrupt hearing
Anti-torture protesters again disrupted Haspel’s confirmation hearing.
One protester began yelling hours into Haspel’s hearing, “Bloody Gina! Bloody Gina! Bloody Gina! You are a torturer!”
Another protester shortly thereafter began yelling about waterboarding.
Capitol Police, who went to remove him from the hearing, could be heard yelling, “Stop resisting, stop resisting!”
Some reporters identified the protester as Ray McGovern, a former CIA officer turned activist.
— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) May 9, 2018
Burr, in response, threatened to remove everyone from the hearing if “there are any other further disruptions.”
Haspel declines to comment on ‘morality’ of enhanced interrogation techniques
Haspel declined to directly answer repeated questions about whether she viewed the controversial interrogation techniques used by the CIA in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks as “immoral.”
Repeatedly pressed by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to provide a “yes or no answer,” Haspel said she supported the “higher moral standards” that the U.S. has embraced since renouncing the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
But, she said, “I believe CIA did extraordinary work to prevent another attack with the legal tools we were provided.”
In a testy exchange, Harris accused Haspel of not answering her question.
“Senator, I think I’ve answered the question,” Haspel said.
“No, you’ve not,” Harris responded.
In a separate exchange, Haspel said she does not believe “torture works,” but she believes valuable information was obtained from CIA detainees after Set. 11.
“I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that,” she said.
Haspel spars with King over classified information
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) sparred with Haspel over her insistence that she could speak about her work at the CIA in more detail only behind closed doors.
After King repeatedly questioned Haspel about who at the CIA was determining what information is classified, she responded that she was merely following “existing guidelines,” before conceding that she had made the decision to abide by those guidelines.
“So you are making the classification decisions about what materials should be released to this committee?” King asked.
“I am electing not to make an exception for myself,” Haspel replied.
As the acting CIA director, Haspel has the authority to make determinations on classified information, even on her record at the agency. That fact has frustrated Democratic lawmakers.
Haspel: I did not run the CIA’s interrogation department
In a tense exchange with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Haspel disputed a claim that she ran the agency’s interrogation department.
Haspel declined to answer a question about whether she oversaw the interrogation of the USS Cole bombing suspect at a black site prison in Thailand.
But she also corrected one widely reported detail: There were 92 tapes, she said, covering the interrogation of only one detainee — not two.
Haspel says she would not follow ‘immoral’ orders
Haspel said that she would not reimplement controversial detention and interrogation programs, even if ordered to do so by President Trump, saying that such activities are immoral.
“My moral compass is strong. I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even it was technically legal,” she said. “I would absolutely not permit it.”
In an exchange with Warner that at times became testy, Haspel said that the CIA has a responsibility to uphold the law and “American values,” and that the country had decided to hold itself to a higher moral standard than it did in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked by Warner whether she would disregard a possible order by Trump to do undertake such activities, Haspel replied: “No. I believe that CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values.”
Haspel addresses destroyed interrogation tapes
Asked by Burr to address her role in the 2005 destruction of videotapes documenting two brutal interrogations, Haspel said that then-head of the agency’s clandestine service Jose Rodriguez made the decision on his own authority — but that “as chief of staff, as I think everyone else at the agency was, we were extremely concerned about the security risk” to agency personnel if the tapes leaked.
“The tape issue had lingered at CIA for a period of about three years,” Haspel said. “Over time there was a great deal of concern about the security risk posed to CIA offers who were depicted on the tapes … centered on the threat from al Qaeda should those tapes be irresponsibly leaked.”
“We were aiming to do two things,” she continued — follow U.S. law and “reach a resolution to protect officers.”
She noted that the decision was made in consultation with CIA lawyers, who she said assured them that there was no legal requirement to maintain the tapes. She said she knew there was some disagreement outside of the agency about destroying the tapes, but that she believed there would be a meeting with the director at the time, Porter Goss, before that step was taken.
“I was working towards a resolution within a process,” she said.
Haspel: I will not bring back CIA’s interrogation program under my leadership
Haspel vowed not to bring back the CIA’s interrogation program in her opening remarks, addressing early on a key point on her record that Democrats and other critics have scrutinized.
“I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, the CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation program.”
Haspel said the CIA was not prepared to conduct such an interrogation program, describing it as a “lesson learned for the agency.”
“The CIA has learned some tough lessons from that experience. We were asked to tackle a mission that fell outside our expertise,” she continued, pointing to her support of the U.S. government’s legal policy framework that governs detentions and retentions.
Haspel recounts 9/11 experience
Haspel offered a detailed account of her experience at the CIA during and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
She told lawmakers that, after seeing video of the attacks, she “knew in my gut” that Osama bin Laden was behind them.
“I got up and I walked over to the counterterrorism center as the CIA compound was evacuated and I volunteered to help,” she told lawmakers. “I didn’t leave for three years.”
Haspel speaks … and introduces her guests
Haspel’s opening statement is one of the first times the public has had a chance to hear the former undercover officer speak. She told lawmakers that she “welcomes the opportunity to introduce myself to the American people for the first time,” earning a chuckle when she said that she has no social media accounts.
“Otherwise, I think you will find me to be a typical middle-class American — one with a strong sense of right and wrong and one who loves this country,” she said.
Among Haspel’s guests was Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who had been reported by CNN earlier this week to be under some consideration as a potential “contingency plan” if Haspel’s background in the detention and interrogation program swamped her nomination.
Secretary of State and former CIA head Mike Pompeo’s wife, Susan Pompeo, is also present.
Warner: We must now hear how Haspel will deal with ‘morally questionable requests’ in the future
Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, said he has questions about how Haspel will deal with “morally questionable requests” in the future as she leads the CIA.
He particularly wanted to know her view of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and if she would implement it again.
Warner also asked if Haspel will push back on President Trump if he makes a request she does not believe is right.
“Ms. Haspel, you should consider carefully how you might deal with morally questionable requests in the future,” Warner said in his opening remarks. “If confirmed, you will face a White House and, frankly, a president who does not always seem interested in hearing, much less speaking, the truth. This president seems incapable or unwilling to accept facts that might contradict his views or his policy preferences.”
The top Democrat emphasized that his vote is largely contingent on how Haspel answers these key questions of his today, particularly whether she will carry out orders even if she believes they “seem to violate a law or treaty.”
Burr: This is about Gina Haspel, not torture
Burr sought to cast Haspel’s hearing as a look into how she will lead the CIA moving forward, rather than a referendum on her past actions at the agency.
“This hearing is about how you will lead the Central Intelligence Agency in the future, not how you faithfully executed missions in the past,” he said.
Burr’s comments appeared to be a veiled rebuke of lawmakers who have raised concerns about Haspel’s ties to the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation program in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Burr gavels in hearing
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) gavels in the hearing with a warning for protesters:
“The chair will announce now: I will not be lenient. If there are outbursts, you will be cleared from the room and it will be done immediately.”
“If you’re going to do it, do it fast, do it early and be gone.”
Anti-torture protesters arrested
Just prior to the start of the hearing, a group of Code Pink protesters began chanting to protest Haspel’s appointment and were quickly placed under arrest by Capitol Police. Several had to be forcibly dragged from the room, shouting “Stop the torture!” while officers urged, “Stop resisting!”
One woman could be heard telling a police officer, “You’re hurting me, you’re like her, you’re a torturer,” as he escorted her from the room.
The Code Pink protesters just started chanting, protesting Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA, and many of them have now been placed under arrest and dragged forcibly from the hearing room. pic.twitter.com/44f82Vq1qC
— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) May 9, 2018