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McCain: CIA Nominee 'Needs to Explain the Nature and Extent of Her Involvement' in Torture

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Oct. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Early congressional opposition to President Trump’s pick to lead the CIA indicates that Deputy Director Gina Haspel could face a rocky nomination process.

“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” tweeted President Trump this morning.

Haspel, a career CIA officer, began with the agency in 1985 and served as chief of station at various overseas assignments. She served as deputy director of the National Clandestine Service, deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action, and chief of staff for the director of the National Clandestine Service. She was sworn in as deputy director on Feb. 7, 2017.

“I think the world of her,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN today. “I’ve worked with her. I think she’s very good. I think the agency rank-and-file look very positively on her as director.”

Haspel said in a statement that she was “grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

“If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office,” she added.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted that in Mike Pompeo’s confirmation hearing for the top CIA job he “repeatedly committed that he would comply with the law that applies the Army Field Manual’s interrogation requirements to all U.S. agencies, including the CIA.”

“The American people now deserve the same assurances from Gina Haspel, whose career with the agency has intersected with the program of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on a number of occasions,” McCain said, referring to her leadership of a “black site” detention facility in Thailand. “The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process. I know the Senate will do its job in examining Ms. Haspel’s record as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) came out against both Pompeo and Haspel, saying Pompeo as CIA director has “demonstrated a casual relationship to truth and principle” and that if “Haspel seeks to serve at the highest levels of U.S. intelligence, the government can no longer cover up disturbing facts from her past.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has reserved his fire for both nominees for a scheduled Wednesday press conference.

On the House side, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrod Nadler (D-N.Y.) urged the Senate “to take a hard look” at Haspel, “whose career at the CIA coincides with some of the darkest moments in recent American history.”

“She approved interrogation techniques that were clearly unlawful at the time, and ordered the destruction of evidence of those practices,” Nadler said. “Torture is not only abhorrent, torture is a crime. The Senate already—rightly—denied Deputy Director Haspel a post as head of the clandestine service because of the role she played in the Bush administration’s ‘enhanced interrogation’ program.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) addressed McCain’s comments on Twitter: “The Enhanced Interrogation Program saved lives, prevented attacks, & produced intel that led to Osama bin Laden. The techniques were the same as those used on our own people in the SERE program. No one should slander the brave men & women who carried out this crucial program.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Capitol Hill today that “at this point” he wasn’t calling on Democrats to oppose Haspel’s nomination or Pompeo’s as “there are lots of outstanding questions.”