Gina Haspel secures crucial Democratic votes, paving way to confirmation

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to be CIA director, on Wednesday secured two more crucial Democrat votes in her ongoing campaign for confirmation after she admitted the agency’s past experience with enhanced interrogation techniques “did damage” to the CIA’s officers and its standing. 

With four Democrats now publicly supporting her nomination, Haspel is all but certain to be confirmed as the first female CIA director in a full Senate vote next week. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., announced last week they would support Haspel’s nomination.

Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., who is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called his decision “difficult” but ultimately expressed support for Haspel, saying, in an afternoon statement, “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.”

“I’m going to support Gina Haspel’s nomination to be Director of the CIA. I also respect my colleagues who have made a different decision,” Warner said.  

Minutes after Warner’s announcement, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, also endorsed Haspel. In a statement, Heitkamp said, “It is particularly important that the Director of the CIA puts the mission of the agency and our country’s security far above partisan politics and that the director be highly respected by agency rank and file. After meeting her and talking with former leaders in our intelligence community, I have concluded that Gina Haspel meets these standards. I am therefore planning to vote to confirm her as Director of CIA.”

Like Warner, Heitkamp said hers was “not an easy decision.” “Ms. Haspel’s involvement in torture is deeply troubling, as my friend and colleague, John McCain, so eloquently reminded us,” Heitkamp said.  “However, Ms. Haspel explained to me that the agency should not have employed such tactics in the past and has assured me that it will not do so in the future.”

Earlier in the day, Haspel criticized the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program more forcefully than she had during her confirmation hearing. In a letter addressed to Warner, Haspel wrote, “Over the last 17 years, the agency and I have learned the hard lessons since 9/11,” Haspel wrote. “While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world. 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. The United States must be an example to the rest of the world, and I support that.”

A committee vote on Haspel is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

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