King and Collins Question Haspel About Enhanced Interrogation Program

May 9, 2018

As promised, Maine's two U.S. senators had plenty of questions for Gina Haspel Wednesday morning, as President Trump's nominee to head the CIA appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Haspel was asked about her 33-year career with the agency and about the use of interrogation and torture techniques during that tenure.

President Donald Trump has said he believes torture works, but during questioning from the Committee Wednesday, Haspel says she does not. Still, there was no shortage of questions for the nominee.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins focused her questions on the interrogation techniques used by the agency in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  Some of those practices, such as waterboarding, were deemed by some as torture and later banned by Congress.

"Were you involved in any way in the creation of the enhanced interrogation program?" Collins asked.

"Senator, I was not, and I was not read into the program until about a year into its existence," Haspel responded.

"Were you a senior manager at the CIA at the time that the program was created?" Collins pressed.

"No, I had just returned from an overseas posting. I was a GS 15, I was not yet a member of the senior executive service. I was assigned as a deputy group chief - that's pretty far down the totem pole in a program that had nothing to do with the detention and interrogation program," Haspel said.

Collins went on to ask what Haspel would do if President Trump gave her a direct order to waterboard a suspect.  Haskell said she didn't think the president would give her such an order.  And she went further after being pressed on the question by New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich.

"I would  not re-start, under any circumstances, an interrogation program at CIA, under any circumstances," she said.

Independent Sen. Angus King asked Haspel about her role in the destruction of videotapes with recordings of CIA agents waterboarding prisoners. He asked specifically about a cable that Haspel drafted at the request of her then-boss, who made the decision.

“Was that cable copied to Mr. Rizzo or other lawyers within the agency,” King asked. “Senator, there was, er, there was robust coordination with the lawyers at CIA,” Haspel answered. “Were they copied on the cable?” “Mr. Rodriguez chose not to copy the lawyers on the cable because he took the decision on his own authority.”

King said other lawyers in government, including two White House chief counsels, the vice president’s lawyer and the director of national intelligence had all expressed the opinion that destruction of the tapes was illegal.

King also expressed concern that Haspel determined what information the CIA would give the committee concerning her nomination.

Haspel said, “I have chosen to follow the guidelines that already exist....I am electing not to make an exception for myself.”

After the public hearing, the committee met in private session to ask Haspel questions about classified operations she was involved with during her lengthy career at the CIA. The panel has not scheduled a vote on the nomination, which will then go to the full Senate.