07:47, May 07 98 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-07 07:47:04
Trump says CIA pick Haspel 'under fire because she was too tough on terror'

Donald Trump has expressed support for his nominee to lead the CIA, who offered to withdraw amid concerns that a debate over the past use of interrogation techniques now classified as torture would tarnish her reputation and that of the agency.

On Monday morning, Trump tweeted: “My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists.

“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!”

Two senior administration officials confirmed Haspel’s offer to withdraw. Haspel, one official said, was wary of suffering the same fate as failed veterans affairs nominee Ronny Jackson – an episode which enraged Trump – and of dredging up the CIA’s troubled past. She took over last month as acting CIA director after Mike Pompeo became secretary of state.

After Haspel’s offer to withdraw, White House aides worked to reassure her that she had the president’s support. As with other nominations, this one hit a roadblock but is back on track, said a third administration official.

On Friday, as White House officials prepared Haspel for a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, aides sought additional details about her involvement in the CIA’s now-defunct program of detaining and brutally interrogating terror suspects after 9/11, a program that involved techniques widely condemned as torture.

That was when Haspel offered to withdraw, the officials said. They said she was reassured that her nomination was still on track. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity. The news was first reported by the Washington Post.

Haspel, who would be the first woman to lead the CIA, is the first career operations officer to be nominated to lead the agency in decades. She served almost entirely undercover and much of her record is classified.

Democrats say she should be disqualified because she was the chief of base at a covert detention site in Thailand where two terrorism suspects were subjected to waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.

Haspel has told lawmakers she would stand firm against any effort to restart the brutal program, administration officials said on Friday. She is expected to reiterate that publicly this week.

Haspel’s conversations with senators will continue ahead of her confirmation hearing at the Senate intelligence committee and a later full vote in the Senate. The CIA has sent materials to the senate, some classified, that the lawmakers can read to better understand not only Haspel’s work in the counterterrorism center, which oversaw the harsh interrogation program, but also other aspects of her 33-year career, including more than 30 years undercover.

Haspel has received robust backing from former intelligence, diplomatic, military and national security officials, who praise her extensive intelligence career. On the opposing side are groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which says Haspel should have stood up against the interrogation practices.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, on Sunday called Haspel a highly qualified nominee. “Her nomination will not be derailed by partisan critics who side with the ACLU over the CIA on how to keep the American people safe,” he said.

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