Trump’s CIA nominee wanted to withdraw ahead of Senate hearing
CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel wanted to pull her nomination to head the agency amid growing concern among lawmakers over her time leading a secret prison, according to a report.
The veteran CIA operative said during a White House meeting Friday that she was worried about being “the next Ronny Jackson,” who dropped his Veteran Affair nomination last month amid misconduct claims, one White House official told the Washington Post. Top administration officials spent the next few hours trying to convince Haspel not to throw in the towel.
Haspel faces a rigorous confirmation hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, where questions are likely to arise about her time leading a CIA prison in Thailand, known as a “black site,” in 2002.
An al-Qaeda terror suspect was tortured there under her leadership, while another was before she took command. Haspel also reportedly ordered videotapes of the tortures — including waterboarding and other controversial methods — destroyed in the mid-2000s.
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She was called to the White House for questions about some of those tactics, several administration officials told the Washington Post, out of fear she may not have the votes to clear the Senate.
A recently declassified report about her order to destroy the tapes “found no fault with the performance” in penning a cable to destroy the torture tapes, which a CIA supervisor later approved — but didn’t run it up to higher officials.
Haspel, who would replace now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressed concern during her Friday meeting that her nomination could taint the CIA’s reputation, officials told the Washington Post.
After saying she might withdraw, Haspel reportedly doubled back to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
White House Legislative Director Marc Short, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other officials pursued Haspel, meeting with her at her CIA office later Friday, officials told the Washington Post.
Despite chatting with Haspel in Langley for several hours, the officials were still unsure if she’d stick with the nomination.
Haspel would be the first woman to head the intelligence agency if she’s confirmed.
Sanders wouldn’t confirm the discussions to the Washington Post, but called the 33-year CIA veteran a “patriot” and the “best of the best.”
President Trump reportedly decided he wanted Haspel to hold the nomination after getting a phone call about her decision while visiting Dallas.
One Trump administration official signalled to the Washington Post that Haspel would carry on.
“There is a hearing prep session today, courtesy calls with senators Monday and Tuesday, and classified materials will be delivered to Senate security so senators can read the real record instead of relying on gossip and unfounded smears,” the unidentified official said Sunday.
CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said there’s been a “fascinating phenomenon over the last few weeks” over Haspel’s reputation.
“Those who know the true Gina Haspel — who worked with her, who served with her, who helped her confront terrorism, Russia and countless other threats to our nation — they almost uniformly support her,” he told the Washington Post.
“That is true for people who disagree about nearly everything else. There is a reason for that. When the American people finally have a chance to see the true Gina Haspel on Wednesday, they will understand why she is so admired and why she is and will be a great leader for this agency.”