Administration bears down in late push for CIA nominee

Administration bears down in late push for CIA nominee
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The Trump administration is forging ahead with its nomination of Gina Haspel for CIA director despite a crescendo of criticism over her role in the agency’s counterterror program and reports that she recently sought to withdraw.

Haspel sat down with two of her toughest critics on the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday — Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death Juan Williams: We need a backlash against Big Tech MORE (D-Calif.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault House passes bill requiring CBP to enact safety, hygiene standards MORE (D-N.M) — and Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSunday shows - Recession fears dominate Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Trump vows to 'always uphold the Second Amendment' amid ongoing talks on gun laws MORE (W.Va.), a red-state Democrat seen as critical to her chances.

Haspel, shuttling from meeting to meeting on Monday flanked by cameras, smiled and told reporters that her meetings were going “great.”

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The CIA, meanwhile, delivered a set of classified documents to the Senate that includes information about Haspel’s work at the agency after the Sept. 11 attacks.


The White House kept up the pressure by blasting out another tranche of laudatory news clips and endorsements, many of which come from former intelligence officials who worked with Haspel. President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE also defended her in a tweet, saying that she has come under fire because she was “too tough on terrorists.” 

“Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror,” he tweeted.

But the uproar over what role Haspel played in the agency’s controversial interrogation and detention program underscored what has been widely expected since Trump first tapped the 33-year agency veteran: Her confirmation hearing is likely to be a contentious affair. 

Feinstein has already blocked Haspel’s promotion once before, in 2013, when she was up to run clandestine operations at the agency.

Her chances at confirmation appear poised to hang on her performance before the committee on Wednesday. There is no evidence that she has ever testified in public before, and she will almost certainly face bruising questions about the extent of her involvement in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” now widely considered torture.

The public grilling she’s certain to face appears to have given Haspel second thoughts about moving forward. She reportedly went to the White House Friday with the intention of withdrawing her nomination, citing the potential damage to the CIA’s reputation, and had to be talked out of it.

How much Haspel will choose to say in her testimony remains an open question. As current acting director, Haspel is the classification authority over her own record — something her Democratic critics have described as a conflict. A group that includes Feinstein and Heinrich has demanded that Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray Coats11 Essential reads you missed this week Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Hillicon Valley: Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media | States beg Congress for more election security funds | Experts worry campaigns falling short on cybersecurity | Trump officials urge reauthorization of NSA surveillance program MORE step in to declassify information about Haspel’s background.

In one move on Monday that could shed more light on her role in the interrogation program, the Justice Department provided senators with the summary of a 2010 investigation into the destruction of tapes documenting a pair of brutal interrogations. Haspel drafted the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes 

The so-called Durham report did not recommend charges against Haspel, and the Justice Department at the time provided few details behind its decision.

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short, who appeared with Haspel on the Hill on Monday, has already said that the administration expects the vote on her nomination to be close. 

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGraham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 Conservatives buck Trump over worries of 'socialist' drug pricing Rand Paul to 'limit' August activities due to health MORE (R-Ky.) has announced his opposition to Haspel, although he reversed similar opposition to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoCotton warns China: Crackdown on Hong Kong would be 'grave miscalculation' Pompeo expresses concern over North Korea missile tests Pompeo acknowledges 'places where ISIS is more powerful today' MORE at the eleventh hour last month.

And Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain's family, McCain Institute to promote #ActsOfCivility in marking first anniversary of senator's death Arizona poll shows Kelly overtaking McSally 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE’s (R-Ariz.) continuing absence — he is at home in Arizona being treated for an aggressive form of brain cancer — has depleted Republican votes to just 49. (McCain was far from a certain vote for Haspel. He was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam and has pressed her on her role in the CIA program.) 

Yet Manchin appeared positive about Haspel following his meeting on Monday, telling The Hill that it went “extremely well” and that he remains “very open-minded” about her nomination.

“She’s truly a professional,” he said, calling her “very direct and very knowledgeable.”

“I think the whole thing is, in this meeting here, wait to see what my other colleagues have to add.”

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach New intel chief inherits host of challenges Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces MORE (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, had remained relatively quiet on Haspel. But on Monday he blasted the CIA for a “lack of transparency,” calling it “unacceptable,” according to a letter to the agency first reported by CNN.

Although there is no public evidence that Haspel participated directly in interrogations, she briefly ran a “black site” prison in Thailand in 2002 during a period in which the USS Cole bombing suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded three times.

Haspel will also almost certainly be pressed on her role in the destruction of videotapes documenting the interrogations of both al-Nashiri and another al Qaeda suspect held at the prison, Abu Zubaydah.

Jose Rodriguez, then head of the agency’s clandestine service, ordered the destruction of the tapes, but Haspel drafted the cable issuing the command. The move came amid growing scrutiny of the George W. Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program.

An internal review conducted by then-CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell found no fault with Haspel. A separate federal investigation did not result in charges, a decision that baffled many torture experts.

It remains unknown how much detail the CIA provided lawmakers in the files delivered on Monday. A CIA spokesperson said that the documents “cover the entirety of her career, including her time in CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center in the years after 9/11.”

Heinrich, Feinstein and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (D-Ore.) have accused the agency of selectively declassifying only positive information about Haspel. They have also argued that because she is the classification authority over her own record — in her current role as acting director — the decision over what to release is a conflict of interest.

Manchin, who had not yet reviewed the latest delivery but knows more than his colleagues outside of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the agency has already provided sufficient information to address Haspel’s role in the program.

“Everything that I have seen, there should be enough to answer the questions that people want to ask,” he said Monday.

Although they are illegal now, the techniques used on Zubaydah and al-Nashiri — including waterboarding — had been authorized by the Justice Department after the Sept. 11 attacks. Some supporters of Haspel say she has been unfairly vilified for carrying out orders that, at the time, were done under the protection of the U.S. flag.

“I’m wondering if there’s a double standard here,” Morell said on his podcast, “Intelligence Matters,” last week.

“The Senate confirmed [former CIA Director] John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanWebb: Questions for Robert Mueller A brief timeline of Trump's clashes with intelligence director Dan Coats Trump critic Brennan praises his Iran decision: I 'applaud' him MORE, who was the No. 4 in the agency when the program was conceived and approved in policy circles, and now they’re challenging a foot-soldier in that program.”