The Senate has confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the CIA following a rocky confirmation battle that focused on her involvement in the agency’s post-9/11 torture program.
The Senate voted 54–45 to confirm Gina Haspel, who will be the CIA’s first woman director. She replaces Mike Pompeo, who now serves as secretary of state and was confirmed last month.
Haspel faced a grilling before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which vetted her nomination, last week over her involvement in the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation of suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. Though little is known publicly about the more than three decades she has spent at the agency — something with which several Democrats took issue throughout the confirmation process — Haspel is known to have briefly supervised one of the CIA’s secret overseas prisons where brutal interrogations took place. She was also a “senior-level supervisor” at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which ran the torture program, from 2003 to 2004.
Haspel, who was read-in to the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program in October 2002 before supervising a black site in Thailand, testified that she would neither restart the program nor follow an order from the president that she believed to be immoral. She stopped short, however, of condemning past torture, stating only that she supported the country’s decision to “hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard” — something that frustrated several Democratic members of the committee whose support she needed to be confirmed.
But Haspel later told senators in writing that the CIA should not have undertaken the torture program as it “ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world.”
Haspel ultimately secured the support of six Democrats to confirm her, including Intelligence Committee vice chair Mark Warner, who cited her public pledge to stand up to Trump on torture. Trump said during the 2016 campaign that he would bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture to fight terrorism.
In addition to Warner, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Jeanne Shaheen, Joe Donnelly, and Bill Nelson voted in favor of Haspel.
“I respect my colleagues who have made a different decision," Warner said before the vote Thursday. "This was not an easy choice. I too spent weeks working through it. But at the end of the day, and as we vote later this afternoon, I believe Gina Haspel should be confirmed. I look forward to supporting her, I look forward to her being a good Director of the CIA, and I look forward to her performance convincing those who could not support her today that her long-term value to our country will make our country safer and that she will act in accordance to the principles and values of our country.”
Sens. Rand Paul and Jeff Flake were the only two Republicans to oppose the nomination Thursday. Sen. John McCain, who has long opposed torture, also disapproved of Haspel's nomination but remains absent while he battles cancer.
Senators had also peppered Haspel with questions during the process about her involvement in the destruction of 92 videotapes showing the harsh interrogations of detainees in 2005. Haspel drafted the cable authorizing the videotapes’ destruction.
Republicans, however, defended Haspel as a longtime public servant who was following orders and whose years of expertise are needed at a time of numerous national security threats, including attempts by Russia to interfere in elections.