“I have found Gina Haspel to be a person of great character,” Manchin said in a statement. “Over her 33 year career as a CIA operations officer, she has worked in some of the most dangerous corners of our world and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices she has made for our country. She has earned the trust of her colleagues in the intelligence community and her intellect, steady temperament, vast knowledge of threats we face, and dedication to our country are undeniable. These attributes make her supremely qualified to serve as our next CIA Director.”
Earlier today, I noted that Manchin had even gone so far as to tease out Haspel’s upcoming testimony. When reporters mentioned that Haspel was sure to get questioned about her offer to withdraw, Manchin told them to stay tuned. “I think she’s going to have a great answer for you on that one,” he replied. PR firms couldn’t have teed it up better for Haspel.
So what was the answer? If the question came up at all, it didn’t rise to a level of a headline. Neither the New York Times or Washington Post note any exchange with Haspel on her withdrawal. The biggest news, as predicted, was Haspel’s pledge to not allow a restart of “enhanced interrogation techniques” now explicitly barred by law and executive order, although she mainly parried attempts to pin her down on the morality of those policies.
The biggest question — now that Manchin’s on board — is whether Susan Collins will endorse Haspel. If she does, that should be enough to cinch the endorsement from the Senate Intelligence Committee and give her at least enough votes to get to 50 for confirmation. Haspel seemed to fumble a question from Collins relating to waterboarding. I’d bet this was not the answer Collins wanted to hear:
Sen. Susan Collins: "If the CIA has a high-value terrorism suspect in its custody, and the president gave you a direct order to waterboard that suspect, what would you do?"
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) May 9, 2018
Ahem. Trump practically pledged to bring it back while on the campaign trail, only retreating from that position after the election, thanks to a lecture from James Mattis. Haspel may be right that Trump wouldn’t ask her to do it now, but that’s a mighty whimsical peg on which to hang one’s hopes. Haspel did better when asked again about it by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM):
When Heinrich followed up on the point about restarting such a program, she seemed more direct.
“I would not restart under any circumstances [such] an interrogation program at CIA,” she said. “Under any circumstances.”
Anyway, Collins’ vote will matter to other Senate Democrats who might be on the fence about Haspel. Without Collins, the others might not cross the aisle, and then the best Haspel might do is 49 votes. Hopefully the nominee is spending some time with Collins in order to ensure that this exchange didn’t do any damage.
Update: Just as predictably …
— CNN (@CNN) May 9, 2018
Update: Haspel’s confirmation is now all but certain:
Maine’s senators split on their support for Gina Haspel’s nomination by President Trump to become the next director of the CIA, with Sen. Susan Collins saying she will vote for Haspel’s confirmation and Sen. Angus King saying he will vote against it.
Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, both issued statements Wednesday evening following a classified private meeting with Haspel. Her open confirmation hearing was held Wednesday morning before the Senate Intelligence Committee on which King and Collins both serve.
Haspel will now get a approving recommendation from the Senate Intelligence Committee and should get to 51 votes — at least — without Mike Pence having to cast a vote. Other red-state Senate Democrats may well join Collins and Manchin; the White House’s prediction of a Mike Pompeo-level final vote could be on the money.