Gina Haspel’s Hearing This Week For C.I.A. Director Could Be Just As Interesting, And Maybe Even More Important
Especially after the Washington Post reported late Sunday that the career agency operative wanted out, but was persuaded not to withdraw her name from nomination after White House Legislative Director Marc Short and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, rushed over to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Haspel originally seemed to us like a win/win for Trump. If she did get approved, he’d get credit for naming someone tough-as-nails, who after 9/11 at least, went along with waterboarding and the type of “enhanced interrogation” Trump says should be expanded. If she didn’t get approved, he would whine about how someone so beyond reproach was rejected just because Democrats are being “obstructionists”. But after his new Secretary of State and former C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo just barely squeaked through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his choice for new VA Chief, his own personal physician Ronny Jackson withdrew, Trump’s suddenly in a spot where he can’t afford another embarrassment.
The President weighed in this morning, arguing Haspel should be confirmed because of her role in torture, not in spite of it:
Haspel is an interesting person, and an interesting choice for Trump. Mainly because she’s competent and highly qualified for the job. At the same time her confirmation process will raise a lot of questions that will likely linger even if she’s successfully confirmed.
They mainly center around Haspel running a black-ops site in Thailand and subsequently participating in destruction of videotapes of interrogations at that site.
Since Haspel’s spent much of her life as a spy, a lot of what she’s done in her 33-year C.I.A. career has not been out in the open. Of course that all could change Wednesday when she appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee. And could be what led to second thoughts.
Haspel has remained a very low-profile figure in the weeks since her nomination. Trump didn’t do much in the way of a public introduction. It’s still somewhat difficult to even find a photo of her beyond this official one released by the C.I.A.:
In advance of the hearing, the C.I.A. constructed what they call a “career timeline”. But it’s more a list of postings than any kind of resume, and is frustratingly short on detail. For instance, the time Haspel was reportedly involved in “enhanced interrogation” at that black-ops site is simply listed as “Deputy Group Chief Counterterrorism Center”.
So the question, we suppose, is do you support someone who very possibly oversaw waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects and then participated in covering it up? Or do you endorse a rare Trump nominee who is singularly qualified for the job (which at the C.I.A., face it, is always going to include some dirty work) and has worked successfully within successive Administrations with Presidents from both parties? (You know, sort of like James Comey had. Or Robert Mueller.)
Although we have an inkling about how we’d answer that, we’re not entirely sure. So we really look forward to watching this confirmation hearing if it indeed comes to pass as scheduled on Wednesday at 9:30 EDT. (And in fact, this is really what confirmation hearings are for.) Haspel does have boosters among people who have worked with her in the past. A diverse group, including many Democrats, sent a letter to the Committee saying within the national security community “admiration for her is unsurpassed”.
If confirmed, Haspel would play a crucially important–if not always very visible–role in the Trump Administration. Especially right now. The C.I.A. has been at the center of most communication with North Korea. Newly approved Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Haspel would replace, traveled to North Korea over Easter weekend in his capacity as C.I.A. Director to meet with Kim Jong-un.