Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to head the CIA appears to have enough votes to be confirmed. The support of Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, announced today, should ensure that Haspel has the votes she needs.
In fact, soon after Warner’s announcement, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Bill Nelson said they are on board to confirm Haspel. A couple of guys named Joe — Manchin and Donnelly — had previously announced they will vote for the nominee. Thus the opposition of Sens. Rand Paul and John McCain, along possibly with that of Sen. Jeff (Hamlet) Flake, won’t derail Haspel.
I suspect most Senate Democrats, the sane ones anyway, are relatively happy with the Haspel nomination. She’s an Agency insider and has the endorsements of John Brennan and James Clapper. From the Democrats’ perspective, she is preferable to candidates Trump might well have selected had Haspel not been the choice, or if she were denied confirmation.
Indeed, some conservatives I know would like to see Haspel’s nomination fail. They consider her a “swamp creature” and/or member of the “deep state.” The backing of Brennan and Clapper confirms that characterization, in their view.
However, Sen. Tom Cotton, who keeps close track of the CIA, assures me that Haspel is a good choice. Presumably, Brennan and Clapper have endorsed her because they fear the alternative and, possibly, for other ulterior motives.
Democrats like Sen. Warner felt obliged to express “grave” doubts about Haspel because of her role in the enhanced interrogation of terrorists following 9/11. Dems must uphold the myth that there was something wrong with such interrogation, even though Democratic leaders were informed about it and did not object back when it seemed the U.S. was likely to be attacked again by al Qaeda.
The smart play on this nomination was to grandstand to the max about waterboarding, get Haspel to agree with them on the subject as much as possible, and then have a few Senators, especially vulnerable ones, fold their opposition.
That’s essentially what has happened. When it looked like some vulnerable Dems might not vote for Haspel, Warner stepped in and paved the way.
Haspel was less willing than the Democrats wanted to don a hair shirt at her confirmation hearing. So Sen. Warner tried again. He had “personal talks” and got Haspel to write a letter stating that, “with the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”
Haspel refused to condemn the people “that made these hard calls.” She also cited “valuable intelligence collected” through the enhanced interrogation program — a refusal to accept the Democrats’ mythology, enshrined in a one-sided, partisan report by the Dianne Feinstein controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, that the program did not produce valuable information.
With all of these qualifications — “hindsight,” “hard calls,” “valuable information” — Haspel’s letter barely amounts to a fig leaf for Warner. But he’s treating it as sufficient so he can make sure Haspel is confirmed (and also avoid alienating her, as would have occurred had she been confirmed without his vote).
That, at least, is how it seems to me.