Wednesday 26 September 2018

Trump gets tough on Russian probe and CIA

US President Donald Trump stands with First Lady Melania Trump after announcing her “Be Best” children’s initiative in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. Photo: Getty
US President Donald Trump stands with First Lady Melania Trump after announcing her “Be Best” children’s initiative in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. Photo: Getty

Deb Riechmann

US President Donald Trump is striking an increasingly combative tone against the Russia investigation.

Last night, he was talking about "fighting back" and telling Democrats on the special counsel's team "wait 'till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!"

Mr Trump tweeted about Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He said: "The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice...and just wait 'till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!"

President Trump applauded when a federal judge questioned Mr Mueller's authority in a case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Mr Mueller is a Republican. Some members of his team contributed to Democrats.

Separately yesterday, Mr Trump defended his nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, dismissing debate over her involvement in a harsh interrogation programme and arguing Democrats want her out because she "is too tough on terror".

Mr Trump said on Twitter that Ms Haspel has "come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists". He added 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!"

CIA nominee Gina Haspel. Photo: Reuters
CIA nominee Gina Haspel. Photo: Reuters

Ms Haspel offered to withdraw her nomination, two senior administration officials said, amid concerns a debate over a harsh interrogation programme would tarnish her reputation and that of the CIA.

White House aides sought additional details about Ms Haspel's involvement in the CIA's now-defunct programme of detaining and brutally interrogating terror suspects after 9/11 as they prepared her for tomorrow's confirmation hearing. This is when she offered to withdraw, the officials said.

They said Ms Haspel, who is the acting director of the CIA, was reassured her nomination was still on track and will not withdraw. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Ms Haspel, who would be the first woman to lead the CIA, is the first career operations officer to be nominated to lead the agency in decades. She served almost entirely undercover and much of her record is classified. Democrats say she should be disqualified because she was the chief of base at a covert detention site in Thailand where two terrorism suspects were subjected to waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning.

She has told lawmakers in recent weeks that she would stand firm against any effort to restart the brutal detention and interrogation programme, administration officials told the Associated Press on Friday. She is expected to reiterate that publicly this week.

Ms Haspel, one official said, was wary of suffering the same fate as failed veterans' affairs nominee Ronny Jackson and of dredging up the CIA's troubled past. She took over last month as the acting CIA director after the previous director, Mike Pompeo, was sworn in as secretary of state.

After Ms Haspel's offer to withdraw, White House aides worked to reassure her that she had the president's support.

As with other nominations, this one hit a roadblock but is back on track, said a third administration official familiar with the effort to get her confirmed. Ms Haspel's conversations with senators continue ahead of tomorrow's confirmation hearing at the Senate Intelligence Committee and a later full vote in the Senate.

In addition, the CIA has sent materials to the Senate, some classified, that lawmakers can read to better understand not only her work in the Counter-terrorism Centre, which oversaw the harsh interrogation programme, but also other aspects of her 33-year career, including more than 30 years undercover. She has received robust backing from former intelligence, diplomatic, military and national security officials, who praise her extensive intelligence career.

On the opposing side are groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which says she should have stood up against the interrogation practices at the time.

Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, called Ms Haspel a highly qualified nominee. "Her nomination will not be derailed by partisan critics who side with the ACLU over the CIA on how to keep the American people safe," he said.

Irish Independent

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