- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Democrats used Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA to score points with the party’s anti-Trump liberal base, as senators and Senate hopefuls competed with each other Wednesday to prove they were taking a tough stance against her.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former chairwoman of the intelligence committee who’s in a tough primary battle back home in California, suggested Ms. Haspel was hiding something from the public about her role in “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding.

Not to be outdone, her chief primary opponent, state Sen. Kevin de Leon released his own list of questions he would have lobbed at Ms. Haspel had he been on the committee that grilled her Wednesday — including demanding to know why she didn’t resign from the agency to protest the interrogations of terrorism suspects.

Sen. Kamala Harris, another California Democrat who’s thought to be eyeing a 2020 presidential bid, weighed in with some of the toughest questions of the day, repeatedly demanding Ms. Haspel declare the interrogation tactics used by the CIA to be immoral — even if they were legal.

The highly publicized event on Capitol Hill was broadcast out across the country on C-SPAN and also carried live by cable news networks. Protesters interrupted the proceedings in the room, and keyboard warriors on social media battled over what Ms. Haspel said.

Opposition to the Bush-era interrogation techniques has become a tenet of faith for liberal activists. The Democratic Party platform has an anti-torture plank.

That virtually guaranteed opposition for Ms. Haspel, who reportedly oversaw interrogations at one “black site” prison in Thailand, and who later helped erase tapes that showed the “enhanced interrogations.”

Add that to Democrats’ overwhelming opposition to President Trump’s high-profile nominees, and Ms. Haspel has become a political punching bag.

“Ultimately, what this comes down to is the Democrats in the Senate simply cannot accept the fact that Donald Trump is the president,” Sen. Tom Cotton, Alabama Republican, told Fox News.

Mr. Cotton said former President Obama’s two CIA directors, John O. Brennan and Leon E. Panetta, and his director of national security, James R. Clapper, support her nomination.

One Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, broke with party leaders and announced his plans to cast his vote for Mrs. Haspel.

Facing re-election in a state that Mr. Trump won by 42 points, Mr. Manchin showered the nominee with praise during her hearing Wednesday.

“To be as safe as we have in a troubled world, a dangerous world, with a terrorist’s mentality, I want to thank you on behalf of every West Virginian in this country for the job you all do,” Mr. Manchin said.

He proved to be an outlier, as the other Democrats on the committee peppered her with questions over whether she would be a check on Mr. Trump.

Ms. Harris demanded Ms. Haspel declare the CIA’s interrogations immoral. The nominee refused, instead saying she wouldn’t second-guess her colleagues, but saying on her watch the CIA won’t be restarting the program.

Ms. Harris was also irked that Ms. Haspel wouldn’t say whether she will recuse herself from decisions about what parts of her three-decade career at the CIA should be declassified as part of the confirmation debate.

Ms. Haspel said she has a responsibility to follow the rules that “everyone at CIA follows.”

“OK, you also in this hearing have a responsibility to answer the questions that are being asked of you,” Ms. Harris said.

Ms. Harris said later on CNN she’ll vote against Ms. Haspel.

Ms. Feinstein will also be under intense pressure to oppose the nomination, with her chief opponent for re-election, Mr. de Leon, making it a campaign issue.

Jonathan Underland, a spokesman for Mr. de Leon, said Ms. Haspel testimony “disconcerting,” particularly in light of Mr. Trump’s past comments suggesting torture such as waterboarding works.

“So any optimism from Democratic leadership on Haspel is gravely misplaced, especially considering her disturbing record on torture,” Mr. Underland said.

Ms. Feinstein seemed conflicted about Ms. Haspel, particularly because so much of her career is shrouded in secrets.

“The CIA selectively declassified only small pieces of information to bolster your nomination, while keeping damaging nomination under wraps,” Ms. Feinstein said. “Given the CIA’s refusal to make your record public, I am very limited in what I can say, and I think as you know I like you personally very much. This is probably the most difficult hearing in my more than two decades I have ever sat in.”

Ms. Feinstein was a leader in the push to expose the full record of the CIA’s interrogation program. She led a five year review, resulting in a massive report that concluded the program was, in her words, “a stain on our values and our history.”

Ms. Feinstein has called the report the most important work of her career.

On Wednesday, though, she stumbled in her questioning, citing a book from a former CIA lawyer who claimed Ms. Haspel ran the interrogation program a CIA site when Abu Zubaydah was interrogated.

Ms. Haspel said she didn’t run the site at that time, and said the CIA lawyer has corrected his claim.

Ms. Feinstein plowed ahead nonetheless, reading the erroneous passage aloud anyway.

“Senator, I did not run the interrogation department,” Ms. Haspel said. “In fact, I was not even read into the interrogation program until it had been up and running for a year.”

Pressed on whether she wanted to destroy the tapes on the interrogation, Ms. Haspel said she did.

“I absolutely was an advocate if we could within, and conforming to, U.S. law,” she said, adding she never watched the tapes.

Ms. Feinstein later said she was unmoved by the testimony.

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