White House Calls Haspel Hearing Key to Her Confirmation as CIA Director

GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Rand Paul could prove particularly important

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in January 2018. A new study released by a data company forgot to include King, the clear frontrunner. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in January 2018. A new study released by a data company forgot to include King, the clear frontrunner. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted May 3, 2018 at 5:00am

A pair of Republican senators could be critical to the confirmation of Gina Haspel as CIA director. 

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said he expected next week’s confirmation hearing for Haspel, currently the agency’s acting director, to be more crucial than such hearings have been for other high-level nominees.

“I wish I could tell you of our brilliance in leg affairs that would have a broader strategy, but I don’t think it’s that. I think the reality is that much for Gina’s confirmation will rely upon her hearing because so much of her background is not known to the American people,” Short said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “I think that she has been preparing aggressively for this.”

As for key Republican votes, Short would not comment on the prospect of support from Maine Sen. Susan Collins, referring a query to the senator’s office.

Back in 2014, Collins’ move to join with fellow Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, to announce support for a partial declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture tactics used during the George W. Bush administration was viewed as a key development in that process.

“While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA’s management of this program,” Collins and King said in a joint statement at the time.

The extent to which Haspel, who spent much of her career serving in clandestine capacities at the CIA, was involved in management of interrogation operations may prove to be a key line of questioning at the hearing next week.

Collins said in an interview last month with NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she planned to wait to see how the hearing pans out before making a decision about supporting Haspel, with whom she has already met privately.

“We still have a lot of questions to ask of her,” the Maine Republican said, while indicating that the release of findings by former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell regarding Haspel’s degree of involvement in the destruction of interrogation tapes was a significant development.

Morell found “no fault” on Haspel’s part with respect to the 2005 decision to destroy 92 videotapes showing terror suspects being subjected to harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding.

The nature of congressional oversight of intelligence activities has always meant that Collins and other members of the Intelligence panel have likely known a lot more about Haspel’s background than the public, or even other senators.

Short also said that Haspel still hopes to meet with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who has been expected to oppose her confirmation.

Haspel, who was born in Ashland, attended both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

“We hope that the senator from Kentucky will take the time to sit down with her and hear her personal testimony, and afford her an audience, and we look forward to that happening,” Short said. “It has not yet happened.”

Paul is not a member of the Intelligence Committee, meaning he could not complicate the panel’s vote to report the nomination.

As for the prospect of Paul reversing course and supporting Haspel, as he did in the confirmation of former CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of State?

“We hope that he will keep an open mind,” Short said.