President Trump’s nominee to replace Mike Pompeo as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency tried to withdraw her nomination on Friday according to a report today in The Washington Post.
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Gina Haspel was picked by Trump to take over the CIA directorate after the president picked Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, but her nomination has generated pushback in the Senate where Haspel’s role in the questioning of terrorism suspects using methods such as waterboarding – considered torture by international rights groups – has been under scrutiny.
Four senior U.S. officials told the Post that Haspel let the White House know that she would step down to avoid a damaging confirmation hearing in the Senate that could hurt the agency and her own reputation.
Haspel’s message to the White House triggered panic among White House aides and prompted legislative affairs head Marc Short and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to rush to CIA headquarters to meet with Haspel late Friday afternoon.
After meeting with Haspel for several hours, Short and Sanders returned to the White House still unsure of what decision Haspel would make. President Trump was reportedly kept abreast of the discussions and ultimately decided that he wanted Haspel to remain as his nominee.
It wasn’t until late Saturday afternoon that Haspel decided to rescind her offer to withdraw her candidacy for the position. She now faces a confirmation hearing where her supervision of a secret CIA detention facility in Thailand where a suspected al-Quaeda member was waterboarded will surely be brought up, along with the inexplicable destruction of the nearly 100 videotapes of the suspect’s interrogation that Haspel was also involved with.
The administration refused to confirm the Friday afternoon drama and put their efforts into continuing to praise their nominee.
“There has been a fascinating phenomenon over the last few weeks. Those who know the true Gina Haspel — who worked with her, who served with her, who helped her confront terrorism, Russia and countless other threats to our nation — they almost uniformly support her,” said Ryan Trapani, a CIA spokesman. “That is true for people who disagree about nearly everything else. There is a reason for that. When the American people finally have a chance to see the true Gina Haspel on Wednesday, they will understand why she is so admired and why she is and will be a great leader for this agency.”
If confirmed, Haspel would be the first woman to ever head the CIA, but she faces intense questioning over her role in the both the use of torture in the interrogations and the destruction of the evidence of the torture.
Her willingness to withdraw her nomination reflected her fear of becoming “the next Ronny Jackson,” one official said, referring to the disastrous nomination of Trump’s White House physician as the next Head of the Veterans Administration. The subsequent revelations about Jackson’s past indiscretions torpedoed that nomination almost as quickly as Anthony Scaramucci’s White House career.
While it is still uncertain whether Haspel can be confirmed in a Senate where the Republicans control the chamber by a single vote with John McCain absent while recovering from his brain cancer treatment, Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out a message of support for the embattled nominee.
There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel. Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 5, 2018
Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) begged to differ with Sanders on that last point and responded to her tweet accordingly.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) May 6, 2018
Haspel’s hearings on Wednesday are sure to amp up the ratings on C-Span at the very least.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.