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Virginia Sen. Mark Warner Weighs In On Why He Supports CIA Nominee Gina Haspel

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 8:06 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to now bring in the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He was skeptical of Gina Haspel's stance on torture during her confirmation hearing for the top CIA job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK WARNER: She is committed to upholding the law. I appreciate that. But it is not enough.

CORNISH: Today Senator Warner voted in support of Haspel's nomination. He joins us now to talk about why.

Senator Warner, welcome to the program.

WARNER: Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: Now, after the public testimony, the confirmation hearing, you asked Gina Haspel to write down her views on brutal interrogation, on torture, after which you announced your support for her. Why did she actually have to put it in writing?

WARNER: A couple of reasons - one, Gina Haspel, 33-year veteran of the CIA - 30 of those years she had been undercover. So to kind of have her debut in this public hearing setting, where she's got a different kind of job if she's going to be CIA director, was - I cut her a little bit of slack on that. And I had had a number of dealings with her over the last year when she's been deputy director and acting director. And she's been straightforward and forthcoming.

And in individual conversations with her as I considered her nomination, she expressed more strongly than she did in a public hearing, one, that she would stand up to this president if he asked her to go back to this type of interrogation or torture techniques and, two, that, upon reflection, she realized it wasn't the right thing for the agency to do in the first place. And I needed to hear that, not only for my benefit, as I had to talk to other colleagues, but I think her job here is to also convince the American public that she's the right person.

CORNISH: Now...

WARNER: What added to that was two other things that were considerations. One...

CORNISH: Well, I want to jump in here one point, though, because Senator John McCain said that Haspel's refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality was disqualifying. And her letter never says torture is immoral. I mean, do you have enough now?

WARNER: I believe in both her private conversations and the letter that she wrote me where she acknowledged it was wrong. And she makes constant references to her moral code. That was sufficient for me. And the fact that virtually all of the senior Obama administration officials strongly supported her, that the previous CIA director under Mr. Obama, John Brennan, supported her and also had been part of the program and got overwhelming support when he was nominated for CIA director, and the point that she made that she would stand up to this president should he try to go back - the law is clear. We're not going to return to those days.

But I wanted her to go further than that, say if she felt that there was something this president asked her to do would be immoral, because I have questions about this president's actions at times, that she would refuse him and the fact that she, now upon reflection, thought those interrogation techniques were wrong and wrong for the CIA.

Truth is as well that, overwhelmingly, the rank and file of the intelligence community really want to make sure that we actually have someone with competence and experience in the field rather than the fear that the president might try to overly politicize this. I understand when people come out on a different side. But I think I'm very satisfied with the conclusion I reached. And I have great hopes that she will be an effective and strong director of the CIA.

CORNISH: I want to ask about one more fellow Democrat, Senator Ron Wyden. He says his concerns are based on still-classified matters, he says, that involve what kind of leader she is and will be going forward. Whatever is discouraging him, why does it not deter you?

WARNER: I've reviewed all the classified materials. I've dealt with her in her role over the last year. I think she has made clearer her views. And again, I go back to the - particularly a number of the people who've worked with her for years and years, leaders in the Obama administration who, almost to a person, were supportive of her. That combined with the fact that she's got the overwhelming support of the rank and file who feared this president moving to a more political choice - I'm comfortable where we landed. And I think that she will be confirmed tomorrow or early next week.

CORNISH: We have a minute left. And I want to leave that question on the issue of Russia and the intelligence chiefs today that you guys - your committee met with. And you and Chairman Richard Burr announced that the intelligence community's 2017 assessment that Russia meddled in the presidential election was correct. Why did you need to do that?

WARNER: Well, I think the assessment - and I am proud of the fact that our bipartisan investigation continues. We've still got questions around collusion. We've still got recommendations around social media that we need to make. But we went out and did extensive review. Did the intelligence community, when they came forward in January of 2017, where they not only said Russia massively intervened in our elections, that they tried to interfere in 21 states' electoral systems - they used social media. But the intelligence community assessment - I think the point that was terribly important to reaffirm was that not only did they intervene in our elections but they intervened with the goal of trying to help Mr. Trump and trying to hurt Hillary Clinton.

And all of the Trump appointees in the intelligence community agreed with that. All of obviously the Obama folks did. The fact that our committee reaffirms that - I think when we're coming up tomorrow on a year anniversary of the Mueller investigation - I think should put to rest why these investigations need to conclude no matter how much this president tries to call witch hunt or fake news or...

CORNISH: And I'll...

WARNER: ...Try to distract us from getting to the truth.

CORNISH: I'll have to leave it there. Senator Mark Warner, thank you.

WARNER: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.