President Donald Trump is standing by Gina Haspel, his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, amid reports that she sought to withdraw her name from consideration to protect the agency’s reputation and her own.
Both Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns over Haspel, the CIA’s acting director, and her role in the agency’s use of brutal interrogation measures on terrorism suspects. But Trump on Monday defended Haspel’s controversial past.
“In these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want Out because she is too tough on terror,” Trump tweeted. “Win Gina!”
As the head of a clandestine base in Thailand in 2002, Haspel oversaw the interrogation of one terror suspect that reportedly included techniques like waterboarding.
The torture sessions were videotaped, and Haspel reportedly played a part in the tapes’ destruction in 2005. The CIA has disputed this, saying the decision fell to Haspel’s superior at the time.
Haspel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee is scheduled for Wednesday and is expected to be especially contentious given her controversial 30-year tenure at the CIA.
To avoid risking damage to the agency’s reputation and her own, Haspel offered to withdraw her name from consideration on Friday, according to The Washington Post. She reportedly told White House officials she did not want to become what she called “the next Ronny Jackson,” referring to the White House physician Trump nominated for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs who withdrew over allegations of misconduct.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also came to Haspel’s defense, tweeting Sunday that Democrats who support women’s empowerment but oppose Haspel’s nomination are “total” hypocrites.