Senate confirms Haspel to head CIA

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel to lead the CIA despite engrained opposition over her involvement in the George W. Bush-era interrogation program.

Senators voted 54-45 to confirm Haspel, making her the first female director of the spy agency.

GOP Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Vaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention MORE (Ky.) and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donating unused campaign funds to Arizona nonprofit focused on elections: report Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report MORE (Ariz.) sided with most Democrats in voting against Haspel. GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' Grant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Will Trump choose megalomania over country? MORE (Ariz.), who was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, also opposes her nomination but is in Arizona undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenProgressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' MORE (D-N.H.) and red- and purple-state Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonNASA adviser quits after request to change name of James Webb telescope denied NASA won't rename James Webb Space Telescope despite controversy FAA unveils new system to reduce planes' times on taxiway MORE (Fla.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) supported the nominee.

ADVERTISEMENT

Haspel is a veteran CIA official who has been with the agency for more than 30 years and by all accounts is well-liked by her colleagues. But her nomination received roughly half the support from Democrats that now-Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoObama looks to give new momentum to McAuliffe The CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll MORE, a former House member, received last year when he was confirmed as President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE’s first CIA chief.

Her nomination was immersed almost immediately by controversy because of her involvement in the agency’s post-Sept. 11 use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” — now widely viewed as torture. In particular, senators homed in on her time spent running a CIA black site and role in the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogation of an al Qaeda suspect.

The CIA and the White House launched an all-out charm offensive in order to build support for Haspel's nomination, playing up politically favorable aspects of her largely secret career, including her work on Russia.

They also touted her support among former intelligence community officials, including James ClapperJames Robert ClapperBiden holds Trump's line when it comes to China Afghanistan disaster puts intelligence under scrutiny Domestic security is in disarray: We need a manager, now more than ever MORE, former President Obama’s director of national intelligence.

Haspel also worked to distance herself from the CIA’s former interrogation techniques. She said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that program would not be restarted under her leadership, but dodged Democratic questions about the program’s morality.

She went a step further in a letter this week to Warner, saying the agency should not have used the so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

“With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken,” Haspel wrote in the letter.

Haspel’s supporters say her comments make it clear she would not restart the program and that she was following orders in the environment that followed the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

“Throughout the process, she demonstrated candor, integrity and a forthright approach to the committee's questions. She displayed the talent and expertise that make her uniquely qualified to face America’s biggest national security challenges, whether in the area of counterterrorism or renewed international competition among great powers,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) said ahead of Thursday's vote.

Republican senators also pressed their colleagues on why they would confirm John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanThe CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Still in the game: Will Durham's report throw a slow curveball at key political players? MORE to be CIA chief, even though he was a senior official at the agency during the Bush administration, but would stand against Haspel.

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonIs the Navy totally at sea? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats MORE (R-Ark.) name dropped Democrats who voted for Brennan during Haspel’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“John Brennan supports her nomination!” he added in a tense moment, interrupting Warner. Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races McConnell gets GOP wake-up call Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (R-N.C.), the chairman of the panel, told him to stand down, but Cotton refused.

The Senate has had a contentious history with the CIA over its interrogation program. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel Feinstein Ban on new offshore drilling must stay in the Build Back Better Act Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Jane Fonda to push for end to offshore oil drilling in California MORE (D-Calif.), the former chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, did battle with the Obama administration over releasing a report on the program. She also took to the Senate floor to accuse the agency of spying on committee staffers working on the so-called torture report.

In 2015, the Senate approved an amendment to an annual defense policy bill, spearheaded by McCain, that banned torture. Nearly two dozen Republican senators, including members of leadership, voted against the amendment.

McCain and other opponents to Haspel’s nomination argue that her involvement in the torture program should disqualify her from running the agency. 

“Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying,” McCain said in a statement.

Senators refer to McCain as the “conscience” of the Senate because of his work on the issue. But he failed to convince his colleagues to sink Haspel's nomination, even as they gathered before the Thursday vote to watch a documentary on the 81-year-old senator’s life. 

Senators voting against Haspel also knocked the agency for not publicly or more broadly releasing details of her involvement with the interrogation program including the summary of the "Durham report" that detailed her involvement in the destruction of videotapes.

“Congress needs to be able to provide fully informed oversight. My questions about Ms. Haspel's role in the destruction of videotapes relevant to discussions occurring in Congress regarding the program have not been adequately answered,” GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) said in a statement.

The summary was shared with members of the Intelligence Committee.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenClimate advocates turn sights on Wall Street Democrats scramble to reach deal on taxes Pelosi open to scrapping key components in spending package MORE (D-Ore.), shortly before the vote, accused Haspel and the agency of trying to hide the more contentious aspects of Haspel’s career.

“Haspel has been exercising the unprecedented power to personally censor any facts about her that might get in the way of her nomination. When the Senate votes on a nomination, when all the relevant information is by design kept secret, how is this any different than a coverup?” he asked.