Trump Hunkers Down On Haspel Nomination Ahead of Showdown

Pick to head CIA offered to withdraw nomination over the weekend to avoid controversy over torture program

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 05: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump crosses the South Lawn after arriving at the White House on May 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Trump traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to speak at Public Hall ahead of state primary elections. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump doubled down on his pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Gina Haspel, on Monday, even after she expressed concerns over her own nomination stemming from the use of torture tactics in a program she oversaw during the George W. Bush administration.

Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director whom Trump tapped in March to lead the agency, told White House staff she would withdraw her nomination if it would save herself and the CIA the embarrassment of a grilling in the Senate over the anti-terror program she headed, The Washington Post reported.

But in an early-morning tweet about Haspel Monday, the president seems to defend the conduct, perhaps raising more questions.

“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” Trump wrote. “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!”

Watch: Expect a Full-Throated Push to Confirm Haspel as Next CIA Chief

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to answer a question last week about Trump’s views on using interrogation methods that qualify under international definitions of torture.

Sanders suggested she didn’t see the connection to the Haspel nomination debate.

Roll Call has tried to get clarity from the White House after the Thursday press briefing, but has been unsuccessful.

Haspel sought to withdraw her nomination Friday, officials told the Post, as concerns have grown that Haspel’s role in the interrogation operation might torpedo her nomination.

As of Monday morning, Haspel remains Trump’s pick to lead the CIA.

Former agency director Mike Pompeo, the new secretary of state, also faced scrutiny during his nomination process.

Five Democratic senators running for re-election in states Trump won in 2016 — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Bill Nelson of Florida — voted to confirm Pompeo because voting “no” could have opened them to Republican charges of obstruction this November.

Pompeo was confirmed by a 57-42 vote.

— Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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