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Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), reportedly considered withdrawing her candidacy ahead of a scheduled confirmation hearing this week, after some White House officials raised concerns that her role in the CIA’s controversial interrogation of terror suspects could prevent her appointment.
According to the Washington Post, Haspel — who has worked at the CIA for 33 years and currently serves as the agency’s deputy director — was summoned to the White House on Friday to discuss her involvement in the “waterboarding” of terror suspects as well as the destruction of interrogation videotapes in the years following the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
After Friday’s meeting, Haspel offered to withdraw from nomination, with an anonymous White House source telling the Post that “she was interested in stepping aside if it avoided the spectacle of a brutal confirmation hearing on Wednesday and potential damage to the CIA’s reputation and her own.”
But, even in the face of documents implicating Haspel in overseeing the waterboarding of a suspected al-Qaeda member at a CIA detention facility in 2002, and assisting in the destruction of 100 videotapes of interrogations at the same secret prison, White House officials have insisted that Haspel is the right woman for the job.
In a tweet confirming that Haspel would continue to pursue the nomination for CIA director, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to frame Haspel’s nomination as a matter of women’s rights. If confirmed, Haspel would become the CIA’s first woman director.
“There is no one more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel,” Sanders tweeted on Saturday. “Any Democrat who claims to support women’s empowerment and our national security but opposes her nomination is a total hypocrite.”
Those sentiments were echoed by President Trump, who took to Twitter Monday morning to rebuke Democrats who had questioned Haspel’s reported support for waterboarding.
My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists. Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2018
As noted by the Los Angeles Times, Trump spoke rather candidly about waterboarding, torture, and controversial interrogation methods during his 2016 presidential campaign, going as far as saying, "I would bring back waterboarding, and I'd bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” during a Republican primary debate.
On the left side of the aisle, the line between “tough on terrorists” and a reckless leader is slightly more defined, with lawmakers tasked with confirming Haspel reportedly requesting an increased number of documents and CIA cables concerning Haspel’s tenure at the agency. After investigating further, Senator Dianne Feinstein told the Post that she has become “more unsettled” with each new piece of information she has read.
As of press time, Haspel will face a congressional confirmation hearing on Wednesday, May 8th, with the Post reporting that a number of Trump advisors have already informed the president that they believe Haspel is unlikely to be confirmed.