The U.S. Senate confirmed Gina Haspel, President Trump’s controversial pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, in a 54-45 vote Thursday, making her the first woman to ever head the agency.
President Trump, along with top Republicans in the Senate, put pressure on Senate Democrats to support the confirmation of Haspel even though she faced tough opposition and concerns over her role in the “enhanced interrogation” program used during the George W. Bush administration. During a recent confirmation hearing, she was repeatedly questioned about her stance on tactics she considered to be immoral. She contended that the C.I.A does not have a role in interrogations and indicated that if confirmed, she would not restore “under any circumstances” any type of interrogation program during her time as the head of the C.I.A.
In an effort to convince the majority of the senators that she would not allow the drastic interrogation tactics in the new position, Haspel penned a letter to Senator Mark Warner (R-VA), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, indicating what her experience has taught her.
“With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the C.I.A. should have undertaken,” she wrote. “The United States must be an example to the rest of the world, and I support that.”
Due to the release of the letter, Warner, as well as two other Democratic senators announced they would vote in favor of Haspel’s confirmation. Although many did not offer their support, Haspel was victorious and received enough votes to receive confirmation and the new title.
Votes to confirm Haspel came from Democratic senators Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. Worth noting is that Nelson, Manchin, Heitkamp, and Donnelly are all up for re-election this year in states that voted Republican during Trump’s presidential election in 2016. Republicans who voted against Haspel’s confirmation include Senator Jeff Flake, Senator McCain’s colleague from Arizona, and Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky.
Haspel, 61, is a 33-year veteran of the C.I.A. who worked with the branch formally known as the Directorate of Operations, best known for their work on top-secret undercover work. Her main task was in Thailand, where she managed a secret C.I.A. detention site. This position led to opposition from Democratic senators because she had ties to the destruction of videotapes that contained interrogation sessions with detainees.
Democrats who supported Haspel’s confirmation did so despite that issue due to her 33-year career in the C.I.A. and the 32 years she spent undercover. Also notable was the support from many high ranking former intelligence officials, which included several senior Obama administration officials.
“Gina Haspel is among one of the most qualified people to be nominated to be director of the C.I.A.,” Warner said. “I feel safer knowing the C.I.A. has Miss Haspel at the helm…I believe Gina Haspel should be confirmed. I look forward to supporting her.”
Democrats who backed Haspel respected her tenure with the C.I.A. and her expansive career, as well as her broad support from former intelligence officials, including many senior Obama administration officials.
Further support was received from Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, (R-NC), who said that Haspel has “consistently proven herself as a strong leader.” Burr further indicated to members on the Senate floor that “She has earned the respect of the agency workforce, of her peers, of Republicans, of Democrats, of military officers, of civilian security leaders, evidenced by the number of letters received in support of her nomination too numerous to read.” Her confirmation “will send a signal to the current workforce and to the workforce of the future that a lifetime commitment to the agency can and will be rewarded.”
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