Democrats opposing acting CIA Director Gina Haspel’s nomination to serve as the agency’s official director do so because she is “too tough on terror” for their liking, President Donald Trump tweeted Monday.
Trump tapped Haspel to serve as the CIA director in March to replace Mike Pompeo after nominating him for secretary of state. Haspel, who has served in the CIA for 33 years, would be the agency’s first female director if the Senate confirms her nomination. But Haspel is facing an uphill confirmation battle because of the role she played in the waterboarding of radical Islamic terrorism figures, in a “black site” prison in Thailand, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.
“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” Trump tweeted Monday. “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. Win Gina!”
My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, 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. Win Gina!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
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Haspel isn’t facing opposition only from Democratic senators, however. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who also opposed Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state before switching at the last minute, announced his opposition to Haspel’s nomination in a statement in March.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called out Senate Democrats, in particular, in a tweet Saturday for refusing to support Haspel as the CIA’s first female director.
“There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel,” Sanders wrote. “Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite.”
There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel. Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 5, 2018
Haspel, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, reportedly offered to withdraw her nomination Friday after facing continued backlash for her role in the waterboarding. But after Sanders and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short spoke to her, Haspel reconsidered, according to multiple outlets.
Despite opposition from the Senate, the intelligence community largely rallied alongside Haspel.
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Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon said at the Cipher Brief’s annual Threat Conference in Georgia in April that Haspel was one of her “dearest friends and favorite colleagues,” noting that Haspel “is so solid, so true, and so not breathless that she will be an amazing leader of CIA.”
“This woman is the right person at the right time,” Gordon added.
More than 50 former intelligence, national security, and government officials from Republican and Democratic administrations supported Haspel’s nomination in an April letter signed by, among others, former CIA directors and acting directors John Brennan, Leon Panetta, Michael Morell, Gen. Michael Hayden, George Tenet, Porter Goss, and John McLaughlin.
“Ms. Haspel’s qualifications to become CIA director match or exceed those of most candidates put forward in the agency’s 70-year history,” the officials said in their letter. “She has spent more than 30 years of her life quietly serving America and the CIA, routinely stepping up to handle some of the most demanding assignments around the globe.”
The officials insisted that Haspel “has made vital contributions to the strength and security of our country and has dedicated her life to serving her fellow Americans.”
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“The people who signed the letter know how critically important the role of CIA director is in these perilous times,” Morell told CBS News. “They know either from firsthand experience working with Gina — or by hearing from others they deeply trust who have worked with her — that Gina is the right person for the job.”
Robert Baer, a former CIA case officer who supervised Haspel during her time in the CIA, wrote an op-ed in NPR, published on March 19, in which he voiced his support for Haspel’s nomination.
“In the interest of the CIA, Haspel is a fortunate choice because, for too long, the CIA has been run by amateurs and political operatives who spend their time figuring out how the agency works,” Baer wrote.
“Another thing Haspel’s nomination has going for it is that she gets along with Trump. I’ve worked under directors whom the president didn’t trust, and even some who weren’t welcome at the White House. Both cases were demoralizing for agency employees,” he said.
Baer also defended Haspel’s involvement at the “black site” prison, writing,
“Like the police, an individual CIA officer does not get to decide what is legal and what isn’t, let alone come up with a personal interpretation of whether an interrogation violates the United Nations Convention against torture or not,” Baer wrote.
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“Haspel was not the architect of the CIA’s enhanced interrogations. This program was parachuted onto the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, made all the more ambiguous because it occurred in the panic of the opening days of the ‘war on terror.'”
Although Haspel’s path forward remains unclear, Senate Democrats’ opposition against her follows the pattern they have followed against most of Trump’s nominees.