The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after 9/11.
Lawmakers approved Haspel’s nomination 54 to 45, with six Democrats voting yes and two Republicans voting no, after the agency launched an unprecedented public relations campaign to bolster Haspel’s chances. She appears to have been helped by some last-minute arm-twisting by former CIA directors John Brennan and Leon Panetta, who contacted at least five of the six Democrats who endorsed her bid to join President Trump’s Cabinet, according to people with knowledge of the interactions.
Trump had wavered in his support for Haspel, at times expressing doubt in private meetings about whether she had the support to win confirmation, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Earlier this month, Haspel sought to withdraw after some White House officials worried her role in the CIA’s interrogation program could derail her chances.
Trump decided to push for Haspel to stay in the running, after first signaling he would support whatever decision she made, administration officials said.
Haspel has not had as close of a relationship with Trump as the CIA’s previous director, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is one of the president’s closest advisers, according to people with knowledge of Haspel and Trump’s interactions.
But she has been successful, to a degree, influencing the president’s stance toward Russia, whose aggressive and adversarial posture toward the West has become a top national security priority for the administration.
Following a nerve agent attack in Britain that American and British officials blamed on the Russian government, Haspel argued for a forceful response, which ultimately led to the U.S. expelling 60 Russian intelligence operatives and shuttering a Russian consulate in Seattle, people with knowledge of her role said. Haspel was a leading player in the multiagency response to the attack and advised the president to make a bold demonstration to counter Russia and stand with Britain, the United States’ closest intelligence ally, these people said.
The president posted a congratulatory tweet after the vote.
Haspel’s ascent to the top post in the nation’s most storied spy service says much about the CIA’s past and its future.
She will be the first woman to serve as director. When Haspel joined the CIA in 1985, there were fewer opportunities for women to live the life of a cloak-and-dagger operative that she found alluring. Haspel took a posting as field officer in Ethiopia, an unglamorous assignment, but one that taught her how to run operations against agents for the Soviet Union, then a benefactor of the Ethiopian government.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Shane Harris and Karoun Demirjian