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Trump’s CIA nominee picks up support from more Senate Democrats

The top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee says he will vote to confirm Gina Haspel to be the next CIA director. Sen. Mark Warner’s decision strengthens the likelihood that she will be confirmed by the Senate in coming days.

Warner’s announcement came after Haspel wrote him to say the CIA should never have run a harsh detention and interrogation program after 9/11. Her written comments went farther than ones she made at her confirmation hearing.

“I have learned the hard lessons since 9-11,” Haspel wrote. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior Agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Haspel said she would “refuse to undertake any proposed activity that is contrary to my moral and ethical values.”

In her letter, Haspel said “the United States must be an example to the rest of the world, and I support that.”

Not long after Warner’s announcement, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said she would also be voting for Haspel, despite concerns about her past “involvement in torture” which the senator described as “deeply troubling.”

“Ms. Haspel explained to me that the agency should not have employed such tactics in the past and has assured me that it will not do so in the future,” Heitkamp said in a statement explaining her vote.

“While I trust her word, I will also verify, helping to ensure Congress conducts robust oversight of the CIA under her leadership.”

Trump needs Democratic votes

Two other Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have already said they will back Trump’s pick.

Most Republicans are expected to back Haspel, although Sen. John McCain is ailing and unlikely to vote on the nomination and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has announced his opposition.

Senate Intelligence Committee vice-chairman Mark Warner, a Democrat, left, and Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, the panel’s chairman, Led the confirmation hearing for Haspel earlier this month. Warner has now said he’ll back her nomination.(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

McCain urged colleagues to reject the nominee over her past role in CIA interrogations. His comments sparked a fresh debate over now-banned torture techniques ahead of Senate voting.

Trump has said the country should consider using the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. And former vice-president Dick Cheney, who was integral to the post-Sept. 11, 2001 strategy, said last week if it were up to him, “I’d do it again.”

‘Moral compass’ questions

Haspel testified at a Senate hearing that torture does not work as an interrogation technique and that as director her strong “moral compass” would ensure she did not carry out any administrative directive she found objectionable.

After the hearing, McCain, who is battling brain cancer home in Arizona, called Haspel a patriot for her long service to the CIA. But her role “in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.”

A career intelligence officer and now acting director, Haspel faces ongoing questions over her work running a covert detention site where terror suspects were brutally interrogated. Senators also want more information about her role destroying videos of the sessions.

While Haspel is expected to easily clear the panel in a closed-door vote on Wednesday, her confirmation at the full Senate depends on winning support from key Democrats, largely those from conservative or centrist states, who are under enormous pressure from outside liberal and human rights groups to block her.

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