Sanders: Haspel's different from Brennan because Trump and Bolton, or something

Kudos to Jake Tapper for pressing the point on hypocrisy when it comes to the confirmation of Gina Haspel as CIA Director. Not that it makes much difference, of course, as Haspel’s confirmation appears all but locked up after both Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly crossed the aisle and announced their support. Bernie Sanders insists that he’s opposing Haspel’s confirmation because of her involvement in enhanced interrogation techniques/torture in the first few years of the global war on terror, but Haspel was a mid-level person in the CIA at that time. Why, Tapper asks, didn’t Sanders raise the same objections during the confirmation of John Brennan — who was the #4 person in the CIA during that period?

Because Trump is the obvious reply … and that’s what Sanders eventually spits out. The exchange begins at the 6:38 mark:

TAPPER: Senator, I want to ask you. One of President Trump’s major nominees is on the docket for the Senate this week, Gina Haspel, nominated to be the next CIA director, the first woman CIA director. You have announced your opposition to that pick. Now, I have to ask, both Gina Haspel and former CIA Director John

Brennan were in the CIA when enhanced interrogation techniques, otherwise known by human rights groups as torture, were used. A lot of people who oppose Haspel’s nomination now over water- boarding, et cetera, voted yes when John Brennan was nominated by President Obama back in 2013, including you. Why? Why is Brennan OK, but Gina Haspel is not?

B. SANDERS: Well, on this one, I would agree with John McCain, and tell you that I think — and tell you what our leaders in the armed forces say. If the United States condones torture for other people, then that subjects our own men and women who are captured to be tortured as well. I think Brennan did a good job in his position. I have serious reservations about this nominee. And I will oppose her.

TAPPER: But you didn’t have reservations about John Brennan. You voted for John Brennan. I guess my question is…


TAPPER: … whatever reservations you have about Gina Haspel, why didn’t they apply to Obama’s nominee?

B. SANDERS: Well, it’s not — it’s not just — yes. Jake, it’s not just the issue of torture. It goes, I think, deeper than that. And that is the foreign policy that we have seen from Mr. Trump, which was repeated today by — by John Bolton, something that I also strongly disagree with[.]

This is silly on two levels. First, the CIA is not a department that makes foreign policy. It provides the intelligence which informs foreign policy, so it’s influential, but the CIA director is not part of the formal policy-making loop. Even if the CIA director did make policy in that area,  she would be subordinate to the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who’s subordinate to Donald Trump and his national-security team.

Second, Sanders may not like Trump’s foreign policy, but that has nothing to do with whether Haspel is qualified to serve as CIA director. Trump won the election, and he gets to set his own foreign policy and appoint people who support it, such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. Sanders’ argument is an illegitimate intrusion on that process, albeit one becoming a lot more common in Senate confirmation processes.

Essentially, Sanders has no non-partisan or rational argument to explain why he supported Brennan but opposes Haspel. It’s all about La Résistance, not coherent thought.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will vote in closed session on Wednesday to give its recommendation on Haspel’s nomination. She’s widely expected to get a narrowly favorable vote now, thanks to endorsements from Manchin and Susan Collins, which will tee up the final confirmation vote perhaps as soon as Friday. Will red-state Democrats jump on board the Haspel bandwagon to show their ability to work across the aisle, or will they follow Bernie Sanders’ incoherence into irrelevance?