Senate Confirmed Gina Haspel As the Next CIA Director

The Senate voted 54-45 to confirm Gina Haspel as the new Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director on Thursday, ABC News reports.

Six Democrats voted in favor of Haspel — Sens. Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, Bill Nelson, Heidi Heitkamp, Jeanne Shaheen and Mark Warner — and most of them face re-election this year in states that President Donald Trump performed well in during the 2016 presidential election, according to The Washington Post. However, Sens. Rand Paul and Jeff Flake, who are both Republican, opposed Haspel’s confirmation.

According to The Post, former CIA directors John Brennan and Leon Panetta reached out to at least five of the six Democrats that voted in favor of Haspel, and their efforts appeared to have helped.

Many Democrats, however, had raised concern over Haspel’s role in the use of enhanced interrogation methods, including waterboarding, on terrorists captured after 9/11 during her confirmation process.

“Gina Haspel and the CIA have committed one of the most blatant abuses of power in recent history, aided and abetted by a total failure of Congressional oversight,” Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement Wednesday. “I have very grave concerns about Ms. Haspel and believe her background makes her unsuitable to be CIA director.”

Sen. John McCain, who is currently battling a serious and rare form of brain cancer, urged his colleagues to oppose Haspel’s nomination, and noted that Haspel’s career “has intersected with the program of so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' on a number of occasions.”

“The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history," McCain said in a statement. "Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA's interrogation program during the confirmation process,” McCain said.

During her confirmation hearing, Haspel insisted she would not allow the CIA to reintroduce enhanced interrogation methods, and said she would be guided by her own “moral compass,” The Post reports.

But she avoided answering whether she thought enhanced interrogation of detainees was moral.

Sen. Susan Collins asked Haspel during the confirmation hearing if she would follow through on orders to conduct waterboarding, noting that Trump had advocated for waterboarding during his presidential campaign. Haspel only replied that she didn’t “believe the president would ask [her] to do that.”

But a key to winning of skeptical Democrats was a letter written this week to Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner by Haspel, ABC News reports. In the letter she wrote 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.”

“While I won't condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel added.

Haspel is well-regarded in the intelligence community, ABC News reports. She joined the agency in 1985, and has held a number of high-ranking positions throughout her career at the agency, including leadership positions in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, which manages spy operations overseas and the agency’s most covert operations programs.

Once she is sworn into her new position, she will become the first woman to ever be the leader of the CIA, ABC News reports. She will succeed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In her bid to become the next director, Haspel emphasized the historic nature of her nomination.

“It is not my way to trumpet the fact that I am a woman up for the top job, but I would be remiss in not remarking on it — not least because of the outpouring of support from young women at CIA who consider it a good sign for their own prospects,” Haspel told senators at her confirmation hearing last week.

Trump congratulated Haspel on her nomination in a tweet on Thursday.