WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee approved President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, on Wednesday and she is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate as soon as next week as the spy agency’s first female director.
The panel voted 10-5 behind closed doors to back Haspel, which was expected after two of its seven Democrats, including Vice Chairman Mark Warner, said they would join the committee’s eight Republicans in backing Haspel.
Haspel’s nomination moved ahead despite stiff opposition - including from at least three of Trump’s fellow Republicans - over her part in the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, a type of simulated drowning widely considered torture, in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks.
But she has also had strong support from the White House, and many current and former intelligence officials.
Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, praised Haspel in a statement after the vote, saying she “has acted morally, ethically, and legally” during her 33-year CIA career.
Republican Senator John McCain, who has been away from Washington all year as he battles brain cancer, urged the Senate not to vote for Haspel.
Tortured himself while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said the country should only use methods to keep itself safe that are “as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world.”
Also on Wednesday, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, from McCain’s home state of Arizona, said he would be a “no” vote when the full Senate decides on Haspel, citing the interrogation program and Haspel’s drafting of a cable ordering the destruction of videotapes of interrogations.
“While I thank Ms. Haspel for her long and dedicated service to the CIA, as a country we need to turn the page on the unfortunate chapter in the agency’s history having to do with torture,” Flake said in a statement.
Rights groups denounced the committee vote. Christopher Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union said the Senate panel was “rewarding a dark, criminal chapter of our history.”
Besides Warner, at least five other Democrats have expressed support for Haspel. She needs a majority to be confirmed in the Senate, which Republicans control 51-49. Vice President Mike Pence can break a tie.
Haspel pledged at her confirmation hearing that she would never resume the harsh interrogations. She wrote to Warner on Monday and said the CIA should never have undertaken the program.
Trump nominated Haspel, then deputy director, in March to succeed Mike Pompeo as CIA director. Haspel became acting director after Pompeo was confirmed as secretary of state.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney