Saturday 23 March 2019

Trump nominees for State and CIA won't get easy path through Senate

Concerns have been raised about Gina Haspel’s role in the CIA’s waterboarding of terror suspects. Photo: Getty Images
Concerns have been raised about Gina Haspel’s role in the CIA’s waterboarding of terror suspects. Photo: Getty Images

Lisa Mascaro

Back in 2017, the US Senate gave quick confirmation to President Donald Trump's national security team and his first secretary of state. But it's not likely to go as smoothly for Trump's new nominees to run State and the CIA.

Senate Democrats - and some top Republicans - are slow-walking the process amid fresh questions over the Trump administration's stance toward Russia and revived inquiries into the CIA's dark history of torture.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions," said Senate Minority Leader and Democrat Chuck Schumer.

The president's firing of secretary of state Rex Tillerson touched off a Senate confirmation battle that will play out this spring ahead of midterm elections when control of Congress hangs in balance.

By selecting CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, the White House is counting on a repeat of Senate support for the former Kansas congressman confirmed last year to lead the clandestine agency.

But the political ground has shifted since the 66-32 vote to confirm Pompeo in January 2017 when the GOP-led Congress was eager to put the new president's team in place and Democrats were unwilling to stand in the way. More than a dozen Democrats joined all but one Republican, Rand Paul of Kentucky, in backing him.

In the year since, Pompeo has drawn scrutiny for actions and statements showcasing his loyalty to Trump and his approach toward Russia.

Meanwhile, Senator John McCain made it clear he had plenty of questions for Trump's choice of Gina Haspel to head the CIA over the "nature and extent" of her involvement in the agency's waterboarding of terror suspects.

McCain has been among the GOP's most outspoken opponents of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques that Congress did away with in 2008 but Trump has said he would consider reviving.

As a career intelligence officer, Haspel oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand from 2003 to 2005 where top terror suspects were waterboarded, and she later helped carry out an order to destroy waterboarding videos.

Irish Independent

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