President TrumpDonald John TrumpMcConnell trolls Blankenship on Twitter: ‘Thanks for playing, Don’ Pittenger loses GOP primary fight Blankenship concedes GOP Senate primary in W. Va. MORE‘s nominee to lead the CIA Gina Haspel will be grilled by senators Wednesday at a hearing expected to center on her role in the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques during the George W. Bush administration.
Haspel, a 33-year career veteran of the agency, faces a difficult confirmation battle given the GOP’s narrow 51-49 majority. She almost certainly will need support from Democrats to be confirmed given Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulFormer intelligence leaders make show of force for CIA nominee Gina Haspel is exactly the type of leader the CIA needs today Administration bears down in late push for CIA nominee MORE‘s (R-Ky.) expected “no” vote and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate GOP warms to Trump’s rescissions package HBO announces date, title for McCain documentary Hatch apologizes to McCain for funeral comments MORE‘s (R-Ariz.) absence from the Senate.
Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee are likely to press for answers on her background, but it’s not clear how much Haspel will be able to detail publicly given that some of the subject matter could be considered classified.
Haspel says she would not follow ‘immoral’ orders
Haspel said that she would not reimplement controversial detention and interrogation programs, even if ordered to do so by President Trump, saying that such activities are immoral.
“My moral compass is strong. I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral, even it was technically legal,” she said. “I would absolutely not permit it.”
In an exchange with Warner that at times became testy, Haspel said that the CIA has a responsibility to uphold the law and “American values,” and that the country had decided to hold itself to a higher moral standard than it did in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked by Warner whether she would disregard a possible order by Trump to do undertake such activities, Haspel replied: “No, I believe that CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values.”
Haspel addresses destroyed interrogation tapes
Asked by Burr to address her role in the 2005 destruction of videotapes documenting two brutal interrogations, Haspel said that then-head of the agency’s clandestine service Jose Rodriguez made the decision on his own authority — but that “as chief of staff, as I think everyone else at the agency was, we were extremely concerned about the security risk” to agency personnel if the tapes leaked.
“The tape issue had lingered at CIA for a period of about three years,” Haspel said. “Over time there was a great deal of concern about the securty risk posed to CIA offers who were depicted on the tapes … centered on the threat from al Qaeda should those tapes be irresponsibly leaked.”
“We were aiming to do two things,” she continued — follow U.S. law and “reach a resolution to protect officers.”
She noted that the decision was made in consultation with CIA lawyers, who she said assured them that there was no legal requirement to maintain the tapes. She said she knew there was some disagreement outside of the agency about destroying the tapes, but that she believed there would be a meeting with the director at the time, Porter Goss, before that step was taken.
“I was working towards a resolution within a process,” she said.
Haspel: I will not bring back CIA’s interrogation program under my leadership
Haspel vowed not to bring back the CIA’s interrogation program in her opening remarks, addressing early on a key point on her record that Democrats and other critics have scrutinized.
“I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership, on my watch, the CIA will not restart a detention and interrogation program.”
Haspel said the CIA was not prepared to conduct such an interrogation program, describing it as a “lesson learned for the agency.”
“The CIA has learned some tough lessons from that experience. We were asked to tackle a mission that fell outside our expertise,” she continued, pointing to her support of the U.S. government’s legal policy framework that governs detentions and retentions.
Haspel recounts 9/11 experience
Haspel offered a detailed account of her experience at the CIA during and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
She told lawmakers that, after seeing video of the attacks, she “knew in my gut” that Osama bin Laden was behind them.
“I got up and I walked over to the counterterrorism center as the CIA compound was evacuated and I volunteered to help,” she told lawmakers. “I didn’t leave for three years.”
Haspel speaks … and introduces her guests
Haspel’s opening statement is one of the first times the public has had a chance to hear the former undercover officer speak. She told lawmakers that she “welcomes the opportunity to introduce myself to the American people for the first time,” earning a chuckle when she said that she has no social media accounts.
“Otherwise, I think you will find me to be a typical middle-class American — one with a strong sense of right and wrong and one who loves this country,” she said.
Among Haspel’s guests was principal deputy director of national intelligence Sue Gordon, who had been reported by CNN earlier this week to be under some consideration as a potential “contingency plan” if Haspel’s background in the detention and interrogation program swamped her nomination.
Secretary of State and former CIA head Mike Pompeo‘s wife, Susan Pompeo, is also present.
Warner: We must now hear how Haspel will deal with ‘morally questionable requests’ in the future
Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: AT&T paid Michael Cohen for ‘insights’ into administration | White House hosting AI summit | Georgia gov vetoes controversial cyber bill | Show of force for CIA pick | FCC chair meets Sprint, T-Mobile execs Overnight Defense: Trump pulls US out of Iran nuke deal | Reaction and fallout | Obama calls decision a ‘serious mistake’ | Show of force for CIA pick | New questions after briefing on Niger Former intelligence leaders make show of force for CIA nominee MORE (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the committee, said he has questions about how Haspel will deal with “morally questionable requests” in the future as she leads the CIA.
He particularly wanted to know her view of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and if she would do it again.
Warner also asked if Haspel will push back on President Trump if he makes a request she does not believe is right.
“Ms. Haspel, you should consider carefully how you might deal with morally questionable requests in the future,” Warner said in his opening remarks. “If confirmed, you will face a White House and, frankly, a president who does not always seem interested in hearing, much less speaking, the truth. This president seems incapable or unwilling to accept facts that might contradict his views or his policy preferences.”
The top Democrat emphasized that his vote is largely contingent on how Haspel answers these key questions of his today, particularly whether she will carry out orders even if she believes they “seem to violate a law or treaty.”
Burr: This is about Gina Haspel, not torture
Burr sought to cast Haspel’s hearing as a look into how she will lead the CIA moving forward, rather than a referendum on her past actions at the agency.
“This hearing is about how you will lead the Central Intelligence Agency in the future, not how you faithfully executed missions in the past,” he said.
Burr’s comments appeared to be a veiled rebuke of lawmakers who have raised concerns about Haspel’s ties to the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation program in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Burr gavels in hearing
Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSenate Intel: Russia waged ‘unprecedented’ cyber campaign on U.S. voting systems Hillicon Valley: AT&T paid Michael Cohen for ‘insights’ into administration | White House hosting AI summit | Georgia gov vetoes controversial cyber bill | Show of force for CIA pick | FCC chair meets Sprint, T-Mobile execs Overnight Defense: Trump pulls US out of Iran nuke deal | Reaction and fallout | Obama calls decision a ‘serious mistake’ | Show of force for CIA pick | New questions after briefing on Niger MORE (R-N.C.) gavels in the hearing with a warning for protesters:
“The chair will announce now I will not be lenient. If there are outbursts, you will be cleared from the room and it will be done immediately.” If you’re going to do it, do it fast, do it early and be gone.”
Anti-torture protesters arrested
Just prior to the start of the hearing, a group of Code Pink protesters began chanting to protest Haspel’s appointment and were quickly placed under arrest by Capitol Police. Several had to be forcibly dragged from the room, shouting “Stop the torture!” while officers urged, “Stop resisting!”
One woman could be heard telling a police officer, “You’re hurting me, you’re like her, you’re a torturer,” as he escorted her from the room.
The Code Pink protesters just started chanting, protesting Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA, and many of them have now been placed under arrest and dragged forcibly from the hearing room. pic.twitter.com/44f82Vq1qC
— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) May 9, 2018