Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA director despite concerns about her role in brutal interrogation program

Key Points
  • The Senate confirms Gina Haspel as the next CIA director.
  • President Donald Trump's pick to run the spy agency faced criticism for her role at the CIA when it used interrogation tactics widely considered torture.
  • Democrats helped to confirm Haspel, who becomes the first woman to lead the intelligence agency.
Senate approves Gina Haspel as next CIA director
Senate approves Gina Haspel as next CIA director

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel to lead the CIA, after a contentious nomination process for President Donald Trump's divisive pick.

The intelligence veteran will become the first woman to lead the spy agency, despite concerns about her role at the CIA when it employed the "enhanced interrogation" program that used some tactics broadly considered torture. After controversy surrounding Haspel's qualifications, enough Democrats supported her to secure her confirmation.

The chamber confirmed Haspel by a 54 to 45 vote. Six Democrats supported her, while two Republicans voted against her. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was tortured himself and urged his colleagues to oppose Haspel, was absent while fighting brain cancer.

Trump and top Republicans pressed Senate Democrats to support Haspel. Most did not, even though some of those senators voted to confirm current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to be Trump's first CIA director last year.

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bill Nelson of Florida and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire voted to confirm Haspel. Four of those senators — Manchin, Heitkamp, Donnelly and Nelson — face re-election this year in states Trump won in 2016.

On the Republican side, McCain's Arizona colleague Sen. Jeff Flake and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against Haspel.

The confirmation push for Haspel got a boost Tuesday, when she wrote a letter to Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying the interrogation program "is not one the CIA should have undertaken." Shortly after the letter's release, Warner and two other Senate Democrats announced they would support Haspel.

During a confirmation hearing this month, Haspel tried to convince senators that she would not allow the use of the interrogation tactics employed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that are broadly viewed as torture. Supporters of the enhanced interrogation program such as former Vice President Dick Cheney have disputed the "torture" label.

Haspel, who oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand, also faced criticism about her role in the CIA's destruction of videotapes showing interrogation sessions.

Repeatedly pressed during the hearing about whether she would allow tactics she considers immoral, Haspel at times did not directly answer senators' questions and noted that the CIA does not have a formal role in interrogations. As a candidate, Trump said he supports the use of waterboarding or worse tactics.

Haspel said she would not restore "under any circumstances" any interrogation program at the CIA, and supports the "higher moral standard" the U.S. holds now.