Sen. Joe Manchin III on Wednesday probably ended suspense about whether Gina Haspel will win confirmation as the CIA’s next director.
The West Virginia Democrat formally announced his support for Haspel’s confirmation before all of his colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee finished the classified part of Wednesday’s hearing with the nominee.
“I have found Gina Haspel to be a person of great character. Over her 33 year career as a CIA operations officer, she has worked in some of the most dangerous corners of our world and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices she has made for our country. She has earned the trust of her colleagues in the intelligence community and her intellect, steady temperament, vast knowledge of threats we face, and dedication to our country are undeniable,” Manchin said in a statement. “These attributes make her supremely qualified to serve as our next CIA Director.”
Manchin’s rationale for backing Haspel alludes to the widespread support she has enjoyed from intelligence community leaders, including those with whom she worked during the presidency of Barack Obama, like former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Many of the other Senate Democrats who, like Manchin, face hotly contested races in 2018, have not yet weighed in on the Haspel nomination.
But Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has already signaled his opposition.
Watch: Haspel’s Confirmation Hearing Felt Like Deja Vu to 2014 Interrogation Debate
Tester has found himself targeted by President Donald Trump over his role in releasing allegations against Ronny Jackson, the now-former nominee to be secretary of Veterans Affairs.
“I’m not a huge fan of waterboarding,” Tester said Tuesday in stating his opposition to Haspel, according to a CNN report.
Haspel’s role in the “enhanced interrogation” program during the George W. Bush presidency has been the major mark against her elevation from deputy director to director.
It was at issue again during the Wednesday confirmation hearing. Haspel testified she would not be getting the CIA back into the interrogation business if confirmed.
“I would not restart under any circumstances [such] an interrogation program at CIA,” she said. “Under any circumstances.”
Republican senators and outside groups supporting the Haspel nomination have sought to portray criticism of Haspel’s role in waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques — as well as her drafting of a cable directing destruction of interrogation tapes — as an attempt to re-litigate a settled debate.
“The fact is, here in America, we have not seen a follow-on attack from 9/11,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said in a floor speech.
“It is a strange business that we ask our intelligence officials to play to the edge of the law. In other words, follow the law but to be aggressive, be forward-leaning to prevent these attacks,” said the Texas Republican, who serves on the Intelligence Committee. “And then when they do exactly that, come back years later when we feel safe and secure and say, ‘Well you went too far.’”
Watch: Haspel Faced Protesters, Questions on Interrogation
It was clear Haspel was going to be getting plenty of air cover supporting her nomination in media markets with vulnerable incumbent Democratic senators, particularly since Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has announced his opposition.
America First Policies, an outside spending group supportive of the Trump agenda, said before Manchin announced support for Haspel on Wednesday that it would be spending half a million dollars on media encouraging West Virginians to ask their Democratic senator to support confirming Haspel.
“Gina Haspel is an exceptional nominee with the record of service that America can be proud of. The bipartisan support she has received by leaders of our national security infrastructure reflect the deep respect for her service to America and the proven leadership she will provide in defending our nation,” Brian O. Walsh of America First Policies said in a statement.
The Intelligence Committee is likely to vote to report the Haspel nomination next week.