Gina Haspel’s an old pro with decades of experience at the agency, much of it undercover per the NYT. Seems like she’d be a popular pick inside the building at Langley. Outside the building, though, the left’s gearing up to torpedo her during confirmation. They probably can’t stop Pompeo from getting confirmed at State, as he got 66 votes in the Senate last year for the CIA job and is replacing someone as chief diplomat whose tenure is widely seen as disastrous. But they might be able to stop Haspel.
Why would they want to Bork the would-be first woman director in CIA history? Because:
The C.I.A.’s first overseas detention site was in Thailand. It was run by Ms. Haspel, who oversaw the brutal interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Mr. Zubaydah alone was waterboarded 83 times in a single month, had his head repeatedly slammed into walls and endured other harsh methods before interrogators decided he had no useful information to provide.
The sessions were videotaped and the recordings stored in a safe at the C.I.A. station in Thailand until 2005, when they were ordered destroyed. By then, Ms. Haspel was serving at C.I.A. headquarters, and it was her name that was on the cable carrying the destruction orders.
Her name was on the cable but the agency insists that her then-boss, Jose Rodriguez, gave the order to destroy the tapes. Whatever the truth, there’s no dispute that Haspel was quarterbacking enhanced interrogation of jihadis in the months after 9/11. Is that a dealbreaker for the Senate in 2018? Well, let’s count votes. McConnell starts with 51 — but he’s got a problem right off the bat with John McCain, who was tortured himself at the Hanoi Hilton and has been a critic of enhanced interrogation for years. He sounds chilly about the Haspel nomination:
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
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 13, 2018
He’s not promising a “no” vote but (a) even if he’s willing to vote yes, he might not be back in the Senate by the time Haspel’s confirmation hits the floor and (b) McCain is probably in “legacy” mode at this point and may be more inclined to buck the party and vote “no” to send a parting message about torture.
If he opposes Haspel, McConnell still has 50 — no margin for error but enough to get her through. Except:
Rand will give presser on Pompeo and Haspel nominations tomorrow [eyes emoji]
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) March 13, 2018
Torture may be the one foreign-policy issue on which McCain and his nemesis Rand Paul are in sync. Paul voted against Pompeo as CIA director partly because of Pompeo’s rhetorical support for enhanced interrogation. It seems a cinch that he’ll end up voting against Haspel because of her actual participation in it. If so, we’re now at 49 Republicans. If — if, if — all Democrats vote no, that’s 49/51. (Or 49/50 if McCain is absent.) Borked.
…Unless Trump and McConnell can bring some Democrats over to the Republican side. Can they? Maybe! And not the sort of Democrat you might expect:
Feinstein said she would wait for the confirmation hearing to determine how she'd vote on Haspel's nomination — Feinstein's praise wasn't support for her confirmation, but certainly not opposition either
— Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) March 13, 2018
Feinstein is already crosswise with the left on various issues, including her support for NSA surveillance. It’s sufficiently bitter that the California Democratic Party refused to endorse her in her reelection bid this year, forcing her into a primary with a progressive challenger. She leads big at the moment but the left looks ready to mobilize to try to block Haspel. If Feinstein crosses the aisle to confirm her it may give lefties traction against her in California, reason enough for her to think twice. And hey — Feinstein has opposed Haspel once before. Per the Times, Feinstein used her sway as head of the Senate Intel Committee to stop Haspel’s nomination to become head of clandestine operations at the agency when she was up for that position a few years ago.
The better bet if you’re looking for Democratic votes for Haspel is those who come from red states, many of whom are up for reelection this fall and will face a dilemma on the nomination. If Trump gets behind Haspel and campaigns hard for her confirmation, praising her as a hero who did what needed to be done to stop the terrorist threat after 9/11, people like Joe Manchin and Claire McCaskill will be stuck figuring out which constituency to piss off. If they vote against Haspel, Trump will use it to try to rally their home electorates against them. If they vote for Haspel, progressives will be furious and might not turn out. Confirmation battles (apart from the Supreme Court) rarely mobilize voters but a de facto referendum on torture and how hard to be on terrorists seems right up Trump’s populist alley. I assume Haspel’s nomination was made with the midterms in mind, in fact, hoping that it would divide Democrats in red states. For cripes sake, there’s a European group seeking an arrest warrant for Haspel in Germany due to her role in CIA “black sites.” If that’s not perfect material for a Trumpy rant on the trail in red states about soft European elites, I don’t know what is.
Here’s one of her biggest fans vouching for her on CNN today and giving Democrats a little cover to support her in the process. Exit question: Would CIA Director Haspel change Trump’s mind about waterboarding? Remember, he’s nominally in favor but has deferred to Gen. Mattis, who opposes the policy, by not bringing it back. What if Haspel thinks it’s worth another look?