- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2018

Public confidence in Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pick to head the CIA, jumped dramatically after her charged public nomination hearing addressing torture on Capitol Hill earlier this month, according to a new poll.

The longtime veteran of the CIA’s clandestine service became the first woman to run the agency in its 70-year history after navigating a lengthy debate over the harsh Bush-era interrogation programs American operatives used in pursuit of suspected terrorists in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics called the interrogation program that Ms. Haspel supervised, which included waterboarding, torture.

A series of polls conducted by Lawfare, a national security blog published by the Lawfare Institute in cooperation with the Brookings Institution, found that Ms. Haspel’s at times emotional and contentious testimony before the Senate Intelligence committee on May 9 was a turning point in public opinion regarding her leadership qualifications.

Appearing before the panel, the 61-year-old Ms. Haspel discussed lessons learned from “that tumultuous time” and vowed that under her leadership the agency would not restart the secret detention and interrogation program. The full Senate then confirmed her in a 54-45 vote that saw support from six Democrats who crossed party lines.

The Lawfare poll results, published on Thursday, found that those surveyed before the Senate hearing, from April 25 to May 6, were evenly divided between supporting and opposing her nomination, at 38.4 percent and 38.6 percent, respectively.

A follow-up survey between May 15 and May 18 — after the hearing — “found that public awareness of Haspel had increased dramatically, as had support for her confirmation” to 49.6 percent support and 28.2 percent opposition.

The share of the public that reported having heard of Ms. Haspel also more than doubled, to 35.9 percent.

The poll, which used Google Surveys to engage more than 4,000 respondents, asked: “Some worry Haspel was involved in the CIA’s use of harsh interrogations while others think she is a qualified leader. Do you think the Senate should confirm her?”

Regarding party affiliation, enthusiasm for her confirmation improved across the board, but her biggest boost came from independents who said they supported her 50.1 percent after the nomination hearing — from 38.5 percent before.

Among Republicans, her support jumped to 79.2 percent from 73.8 percent while Democrats saw a spike to 21.2 percent from 14.2 percent.

The Lawfare article accompanying the poll results — by Mieke Eoyang, Ben Freeman, Ryan Pougiales and Benjamin Wittes — noted that “among just the authors of this piece, one of us supported her confirmation while another opposed it.”

They added: “The fight over Gina Haspel’s nomination to be director of the CIA was one of the more politically controversial that has emerged in recent months. It raised complex questions of leadership and accountability and reopened discussion over this country’s use of harsh interrogation techniques that many have characterized as torture.”

After her Senate confirmation, Ms. Haspel officially replaced former CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, who left to become Secretary of State.

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