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Senate Confirms Gina Haspel to Lead CIA

Bipartisan vote does not follow partisan script

Senators confirmed Gina Haspel to become CIA director before finishing work for the week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Senators confirmed Gina Haspel to become CIA director before finishing work for the week. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After a number of Democratic senators announced they would support President Donald Trump’s choice of Deputy CIA Director Gina Haspel to run the agency, she was easily confirmed Thursday afternoon.

In what has become a bit of a regular routine, Senate leaders reached an agreement to expedite votes on a key national security nominee and prevent any threat of a weekend session.

 The floor vote tally was 54-45. That came after some Democratic and Republican lawmakers raised concerns during the nomination process about her role in brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists after the 9/11 attacks. 

Haspel is the first woman to head the CIA.

“She displayed the talent and expertise that make her uniquely qualified to face America’s biggest national security challenges — whether in the area of counterterrorism or renewed international competition amongst great powers. Out of the spotlight, whether at Langley and deployed abroad, Ms. Haspel has quietly earned the respect and admiration of those who matter most — the men and women of the CIA, and distinguished current and former intelligence community leaders,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday of Haspel

Much of the focus had been on how Democrats from states won by Trump in 2016 would vote, but the vote ended up being somewhat more complicated than that.

Protester Escorted From Senate Chamber Shortly Before Haspel Vote

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Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, for instance, ended up being one of the supporters from the Democratic side of the aisle — and from a state Hillary Clinton won Shaheen was among the senators convinced by Haspel’s commitment to not restore a CIA interrogation program like the one that used torture tactics during the George W. Bush presidency.

“Let me be perfectly clear: I believe torture is inconsistent with our nation’s values and its use has harmed America’s standing in the world,” Shaheen said in a statement. “I also believe it is important to hold Gina Haspel’s nomination to a similar standard as previous nominees for this position, particularly in regards to responsibility for the CIA’s use of torture following the 9/11 attacks.”

And Sen. Doug Jones, the new Democratic senator from heavily Republican Alabama, came down against Haspel.

“There is a legal and moral responsibility that comes with operating in secrecy,” he said in a statement. “Some of Ms. Haspel’s past actions and beliefs did not meet that standard. We must choose leaders that consistently embody our highest ideals, rather than our darkest moments.”

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, announced Wednesday that he would have to oppose Haspel’s confirmation because he never received enough information about Haspel’s role in the destruction of tapes of the “enhanced interrogations” of suspected terrorists in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Flake effectively followed the lead of Arizona’s senior senator, Armed Services Chairman John McCain, who had encouraged his Senate colleagues to oppose Haspel’s confirmation. McCain is in Arizona battling cancer. 

“While I thank Ms. Haspel for her long and dedicated service to the CIA, as a country we need to turn the page on the unfortunate chapter in the agency’s history having to do with torture. Congress needs to be able to provide fully informed oversight,” Flake said in a statement. “My questions about Ms. Haspel’s role in the destruction of videotapes relevant to discussions occurring in Congress regarding the program have not been adequately answered.”

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