Gina Haspel sought to withdraw nomination to be CIA director
Gina Haspel offered to withdraw her nomination as President Donald Trump’s pick to head the CIA on Friday after some White House officials raised concerns with her about her ability to get confirmed, several sources familiar with the nomination have told CNN.
During the meeting, Haspel offered to withdraw if that would help the situation, two of the sources said.
Later that day White House legislative affairs director Marc Short and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders went to CIA headquarters in Virginia to talk to Haspel, two of the sources said. Eventually the tension seemed to ease, and as of now her nomination stands, the sources said.
Haspel faces a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. Her nomination would be in jeopardy only if she loses the support of Republicans, who hold a slim 51-49 seat majority in the Senate.
Two sources said Haspel participated in a practice session Friday — called a “murder board” — to prepare for the hearing, a sign the nomination was moving forward.
While the White House has been concerned about her past involvement with the CIA’s controversial interrogation program, administration officials said they ultimately believe she will get confirmed.
The Washington Post first reported Haspel’s offer to withdraw. A 33-year CIA veteran, Haspel was summoned to the White House to answer questions about her role in the interrogation program, the Post reported.
Haspel feared becoming “the next Ronny Jackson,” the White House physician who withdrew his nomination as Veterans Affairs secretary amid questions about alleged misconduct on the job, one official told the Post. Jackson no longer works as Trump’s personal physician but remains in the White House Medical Unit.
The newspaper said Trump learned of the situation on Friday and called officials while in Dallas for the National Rifle Association convention. After initially signaling he would support whatever decision was taken, Trump decided to push for Haspel to remain the nominee, according to the newspaper.
By Saturday, Haspel had agreed to continue with her nomination, officials told the Post.
Both Short and Sanders declined to comment to the Post about Haspel’s offer to withdraw.
“There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel,” Sanders wrote on Twitter Saturday. “Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite.”
Raj Shah, the White House principal deputy press secretary, said in a statement Sunday, “Acting Director (Gina) Haspel is a highly qualified nominee who has dedicated over three decades of service to her country. Her nomination will not be derailed by partisan critics who side with the ACLU over the CIA on how to keep the American people safe.”
Two potential sticking points in Haspel’s nomination are her past oversight of a CIA “black site” in Thailand in 2002 and her involvement in the destruction of CIA videotapes showing the waterboarding of terrorism suspects in 2005, although the CIA released an internal review last month absolving Haspel of responsibility.
The official who conducted the review, former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, told CNN that Haspel had merely drafted a cable under instruction from her boss, former clandestine chief Jose Rodriguez, “that he sent, under his name and authority, ordering that the tapes be destroyed.”
A CIA spokesperson told CNN on Sunday, “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.”
“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,” the spokesperson said.