Pompeo and Haspel nominations set up contentious Senate hearings

Pompeo and Haspel nominations set up contentious Senate hearings

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Donald Trump’s sudden decision to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, and elevate his deputy to run the spy agency has set in motion a partisan battle on Capitol Hill ahead of what is likely to be a pair of contentious confirmation hearings.

Trump announced on Tuesday that he would nominate Pompeo, the former Tea party congressman and a hawk who shares the president’s foreign policy impulses, to be the nation’s top diplomat. To replace him, Trump tapped Gina Haspel, who currently serves as the deputy director of the CIA.

Gina Haspel has been nominated for CIA director.



Gina Haspel has been nominated for CIA director. Photograph: AP

Top Senate Republicans say they intend to move quickly on the nominations, noting the urgency of the timeline: delicate, high-stakes negotiations with North Korea, looming deadlines to continue compliance with the Iran nuclear deal and heightened concern over Russian aggression.

Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, assured Pompeo after the announcement that his panel would move through the confirmation process “as expeditiously as possible”. The hearing is expected in April.

But resistance to the nominees is building among Democrats, who are already under intense pressure from their liberal base to oppose Trump’s agenda. The backlash is not expected to prevent their confirmation, but it is an indication that the nomination process will not be as smooth or speedy as Republicans hope.

The Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer said that the the nominees would face “outstanding questions” during their Senate confirmation hearings, but he has not advised Democrats to oppose either Pompeo or Haspel. The Senate confirmed Pompeo to be director of the CIA in a vote of 66 to 32 in January 2017.

Perhaps the fiercest line of questioning will be reserved for Haspel, a career spymaster who would be the first female CIA director. Democrats and Republicans are already demanding to know more about her reported role overseeing a CIA “black site” prison in Thailand, and her involvement in efforts to destroy videotapes that show detainees being subjected to brutal “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican and a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, said Haspel “needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process” and expressed confidence that the Senate would examine her record “as well as her beliefs about torture and her approach to current law”.

John McCain
(@SenJohnMcCain)

The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. The Senate must do its job in scrutinizing the record & involvement of Gina Haspel in this disgraceful program. https://t.co/p2eZfMDF5N


March 13, 2018

Senator Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois and an Iraq war veteran, said “supporting torture should disqualify people from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently Donald Trump thinks it merits promotion”.

Pompeo, a West Point graduate and Army veteran, has, in past remarks, defended waterboarding as an interrogation tactic and argued for Congress to permit domestic surveillance on a mass scale. But during his confirmation hearing to be director of the CIA, Pompeo was asked if he would restart the CIA’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” should the president ask him to do so. “Absolutely not,” he replied.

As a member of Congress, Pompeo appeared much more in sync with the nation’s intelligence community than Trump on Russia. But last year, he drew criticism for falsely stating that the intelligence community had concluded that Russian interference did not affect the outcome of the US presidential election. And Pompeo, like Trump, takes a hard-line view of Iran and sympathizes with the president’s desire to withdraw the US from the multinational accord, brokered by the Obama administration to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

Democrats saw Tillerson as one of the members of Trump’s cabinet willing to publicly break with him and have expressed unease with Pompeo’s closeness to the President. Democrat Brian Schatz, who supported Pompeo’s nomination for CIA Director, told reporters on Tuesday that he would not commit to doing so again.

Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who opposed Pompeo’s nomination to be CIA director, said he would again vote to block his nomination for Secretary of State.

“Before and after his confirmation as CIA director, Mike Pompeo has demonstrated a casual relationship to truth and principle,” the Oregon Democrat said in a statement. “He has downplayed Russia’s attack on our democracy, at times contradicting the intelligence community he is supposed to lead. He has also made inconsistent and deeply concerning statements about torture and mass spying on Americans.”

Wyden also intends to oppose Haspel’s nomination, arguing that her background makes her “unsuitable” to serve as director of the spy agency.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who also serves on the intelligence committee and played an instrumental role in the the effort to release a more than 6,000-page report on the CIA’s use of torture to interrogate terrorism suspects, said she has had concerns with Haspel in the past as a result of her “connection to the CIA torture program”.

She added, however, that Haspel has appeared to have done well in the current role as deputy director of the nation’s spy agency.

“To the best of my knowledge she has been a good deputy director and I look forward to the opportunity to speak with her again,” Feinstein said.



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