09:04, May 20 279 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-20 09:04:36
Democrat McCaskill defends no vote on Trump CIA pick – but can't say why

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri has defended her vote against Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director, but said the specific reasons for it were classified.

McCaskill was one of the few Democrats facing a difficult re-election this fall to oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel, who was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday after a heated debate about her role in the CIA’s torture program.

The Missouri Democrat told reporters at a Kansas City campaign event that her vote was influenced by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican and 2008 presidential candidate who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and who also opposed Haspel’s confirmation.

But she said the most important reason for her decision came during a classified discussion with Haspel.

“I cross-examined her on the classified material” McCaskill said. “And I was very uncomfortable with her answers.

“I wish I could explain to all my constituents the details of all that, but the law will not allow me to do so. I can tell you this, if everyone in Missouri read and listened to her answers to the questions I asked, I believe that a vast majority of Missourians would have voted the same way I did.”

Earlier in the day, Republican senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas seized on McCaskill’s vote during a conference call arranged by the campaign of her Republican opponent, Missouri attorney general Josh Hawley.

McCaskill “proved once again that she is so liberal and so reflexively opposed to the president that she cannot represent Missouri in the Senate”, Cotton charged. “She put partisan politics over national security.”

McCaskill represents a state that has trended more Republican in recent years. Trump won Missouri by nearly 19% in 2016.

She sided with the majority of Democrats on Thursday to oppose Haspel’s nomination. A handful of red-state Democrats up for re-election in November voted to confirm her, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp.

Acknowledging the Republican shift in her state, McCaskill said Missouri voters would need “proof of independence” to support her re-election bid. She noted that she supported Trump’s pick of Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state, adding that she voted with her party only about half the time.