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Haspel Hearings Today. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 9, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Thailand where those harsh interrogation techniques did take place, as well as her role in the destruction of those tapes showing harsh interrogation techniques actually taking place. She's told the senators privately that she was ordered -- that there was an order from her superiors to carry out those destruction of the tapes. But a lot of the details about her role have been classified, records about her -- about those efforts still have not been declassified and members want to know what she can say about that. That's going to be a big focus of the hearing. The ultimate questions is what she will be able to say and whether she'll be able to alleviate any of those concerns. But three key members to watch here, Joe Manchin, as well as Susan Collins, Angus King, moderates who will play a key role in determining whether or not she will get enough votes to be approved favorably by this committee and ultimately on the floor. Expect a very contentious hearing today, guys.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Manu, thank you very much, right outside the hearing room. We will bring it to you in full live as soon as it begins.

But let's bring in our panel to discuss this.

And, Nia, let me go to you first because we know some of what she'll say in these prepared marks. And part of what she'll say, very significantly, is that, quote, under my leadership, the CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program, meaning waterboarding will not happen on my watch, et cetera. That begs the question of, a, will that be enough for senators that are on the fence, especially some of those red state Democrats, and, b, is that her saying, if I were ordered by President Trump to restart what many define as torture, I would stand up to him and I would say no.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and that's the big question because we know that the president, and certainly as a candidate, talked about torture, essentially saying that torture worked and it was something that he thought was effective and thought about bringing back. So that will be a key question.

I think one of the key people to watch here is going to be Joe Manchin. He is, of course, from a red state. He's been pretty supportive so far of Donald Trump's nominees. Of course, voted for Pompeo. What is his position here? How does he engage with the nominee here? Also, you take a step back here. I mean this is a real historic

moment. She would be the first woman to lead this agency. This is an administration that is, in some ways, been criticized because it is so heavily dominated by men in those top ranks. And so here is a woman who will testify to possibly take on a role that would be historic. So, will see.

I think we will see some, you know, contentious exchanges from people like Dianne Feinstein, who's on this committee, Kamala Harris, both senators, of course, from California representing the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. But again, I think, I mean, if past nominees are any judge, people like Pompeo, those red state Democrats who have typically backed this president's nominee because their constituencies in large part support Donald Trump, those are the folks to watch, particularly Joe Manchin in this instance.

BERMAN: A few moments ago we did see the chair of the committee, Richard Burr, along with the ranking member, Mark Warner. We've seen a lot of them over the last year having to do with the Russian investigation. This is separate from that.

There's Senator Burr right now, the chairman of the committee.

Mike Baker, you worked inside the Intelligence Committee. You recently had a chance to talk to Gina Haspel right now. Any sense of how the community feels about her and her approach I think to these issues in contention, waterboarding and the like?

MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, I can tell you, first of all, we're not walking back that road, right? We're not going -- she's been very clear about that and I think that's very important for her to get out again in front of this committee hearing and repeatedly say that we're not going backwards, we're not going back in history.

But I will say that the intel community unanimously essentially is supporting her. A recent letter came out from 50 national security leaders, including the former six top -- the directors of the agency, and that spans Republicans and Democrats. And they're all in support of her. She is a very smart, very independent minded, very experienced, you know, seven overseas operational tours, several leadership positions within the agency.

And I'd like to make this point if I could. Yes, of course, we're seeing the optics with some of the protests. We know that some of the folks are going to want to revisit the rendition interrogation program. We also know that DOJ and other reviews over the years have produce thousands of pages, including specifically her small role in that program and absolving her of responsibility.

But I guess he's my -- my key point is, I -- from my experiences, I would rather have people in these senior leadership positions who have learned from experience rather than learn from some academic theoretical position or from the comfort of an armchair. She has learned a great deal from her experiences in this organization. And she is, I think, at this time -- we're not going to make history go away. We're not going to be able to erase that history. I would rather have somebody in that position who has risen up through operations, who has learned these hard lessons and will lead this agency forward. And she has been absolutely clear in her desire not to walk back down that road.

[09:35:06] BERMAN: Mike, let me just tell you who you're looking at on the screen right now. Those are former Senators Evan Bayh and Saxby Chambliss, who used to be members of this committee, a Democrat and a Republican, who will introduce Gina Haspel to the committee. A sign of some of the bipartisan support for her nomination.

HARLOW: And, again, as soon as this begins live, we'll hear first from the chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Burr. And he has said about Haspel, I don't have any concerns. I've done my homework. There are others, Republicans and Democrats, who do have many questions for her on the torture program today.

Mark Preston, to you.

One thing that struck me from the bits of her prepared remarks that we've received is that she seems to be saying, under my leadership, if I'm named to head the CIA, you members of Congress would have more purview, you'd have more -- there would be more transparency into what we're doing. She writes, if we can't share aspects of the secret work with the public, we should do so with their elected representatives. Significant?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR (ph): Yes, absolutely. And I think actually that's -- you know, given the fact that -- putting aside what she has said about her past involvement with the rendition program, that is the most important thing she is going to say and should really calm any fears right now from Congress. To hear somebody from the executive branch, specifically from the CIA, say something like that, say that I want to work with Congress, Congress should have the oversight is actually a very strong comment to make specifically --

HARLOW: And there we see Gina Haspel -- sorry to interrupt -- just walking in and shaking hands with those senators, including just there Joe Manchin, who does have some big questions for her.

BERMAN: Hugging Joe Manchin.

HARLOW: Hugging Joe Manchin.

HENDERSON: Hugging Joe Manchin, yes.

PRESTON: Yes. You know, and a couple of things, too. As Manu had noted, a couple of people to watch is Angus King and Joe Manchin, both senators, both former governors too. And there's something to be said that they understand the need for an exclusive to have people in place that they can rely on. So, in some ways, you've got to wonder if they're leaning that way because President Trump should have the people in place that he wants and that he believes he needs.

BERMAN: You can see the photographers getting a chance to get their pictures right now. Gina Haspel surrounded by Evan Bayh on her left, Saxby Chambliss on her right. The committee sitting down.

Admiral, probably just a few seconds here.

Mike Baker said that former intelligence officials rallying behind her, but some diplomats put out a letter today saying that Gina Haspel and what she has represented is a contrast to the message that they believe America should be sending.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, that's right. I mean I think -- and the diplomatic core there is great concern about her moving forward because of the message it might send about human rights and America's observance of proper human rights and detainee treatment going forward. They're concerned about sort of the diplomatic message this sends.

I'm going to be looking to see -- I mean I read her statement and I like that it references the Army Field Manual and the fact that the CIA -- this is not a -- interrogation techniques like this are not a quality that the CIA is going to move forward on. But I also want to see how much responsibility and accountability she'll give herself in this. Nothing in her opening statement said, you know, I regret being a part of this or I had qualms about this. And I think she's going to get pressed on that and I hope that she's really honest and forthcoming.


You know, Nia-Malika, as we wait to hear from the chairman, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois has voiced concern, that has been echoed by others, about the role that CIA played in advocating for Gina Haspel through this process. That that's rare for an intelligence agency to do.

HENDERSON: That's right. And they basically absolved her of -- I guess it's starting now. They sort of cleared her in terms of any sort of culpability or responsibility in terms of getting rid of those tapes. So that was something that we hadn't seen before and you're going to probably hear from some senators there, particularly Dianne Feinstein, who's been pressing for declassification further of some of these documents related to her tenure.

BERMAN: All right, you're listening to Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina right now. The hearing has begun.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Closed session. It's also incumbent on those who attend in the audience that they recognize the order that we expect. The chair would announce now, I will not be lenient. If there are outbursts, you will be cleared from the room and it will be done immediately. So for the benefits of members and for the benefit of our witnesses, if you're going to do it, do it fast, do it early and be gone.

I'd like to welcome our witnesses today. Our witness, acting director of Central Intelligence Agency, Ms. Gina Haspel.

Gina, congratulations on your nomination. Our goal in conducting this hearing is to enable the committee to

begin consideration of Ms. Haspel's qualification and to allow for thoughtful deliberation by all members. She's already provided substantive written responses to more than 100 questions presented by the committee and its members. Today, of course, members will be able to ask additional questions and to hear from Ms. Haspel in open and closed session.

Gina, you've been asked to lead what I believe is one of our most treasured assets in this nation during a period of profound change. The Central Intelligence Agency is one of the principled members of the United States intelligence community and its tasked with collecting foreign intelligence through human sources and by appropriate other means.

[09:40:16] The CIA operates in the shadows. It's officers are often undercover and sometimes work in hostile and austere environments. It's not simply a job for many, but it's a lifestyle. One that you have lived honorably for more than 30 years.

The clandestine nature of the agency's work, however, is both its greatest capability and its most challenging liability, as its activities are outside the public view. We address that liability by calling upon the president to nominate individuals with unwavering integrity and the Senate approves only those who we are assured will lead this organization lawful, ethically and morally.

Gina Haspel was born in Kentucky, the oldest of five children, where she returned after attending high school in England. She originally told her father, who served in the United States Air Force, that she wanted to attend West Point, only to be gently reminded that West Point at the time did not admit women. That didn't delude her sense of service and after graduating from the University of Kentucky, Gina went on to work as a contractor with the 10th Special Forces Group. It was in Ft. Devon that Gina learned about the CIA, a place where she could serve along with other women doing clandestine work around the world.

Since her departure in 1985, Gina's developed an extensive overseas experience and served as chief of station in many locations. In Washington she's held numerous senior leadership positions, including deputy director, deputy director of national and clandestine services.

Gina, I've reviewed the material provided by you and have spoken to you personally many times. I believe you're intellectual rigor, your honorable service and outstanding judgement make you a natural fit to lead the CIA. I can assure you that this committee will continue to faithfully allow -- follow its charter and conduct vigorous and real- time oversight over CIA's operations and activities. We'll ask difficult and probing questions of you and your staff and we will expect honest, complete and timely responses. The American people allow the CIA to operate in the shadows because they have a trust in oversight and I take that responsibility seriously.

Now, some may seek to turn this nomination into a trial about a long shuddered program. I'd like to set the record straight and make clear to those in attendance, and the American people, that this hearing -- this hearing's about -- this hearing's not about programs already addressed by executive order, legislation and the court of law. It's about the woman seated in front of us.

Gina, you -- I've reviewed your records closely. I've read your detailed and thoughtful answer to the committee's prehearing questions and I've spoken with you many times over the years. You are without a doubt the most qualified person the president could have chosen to lead the CIA and the most prepared nominee in its 70 year history. You have acted morally, ethically and legally over a distinguished 30 plus year career. You have operated under authorities signed and granted by the president of the United States at the direction of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and according to the legal guidance provided by the attorney general of the United States.

Those who have issues with programs or operations conducted years ago should address those concerns in their questions to former presidents, former directors and former attorney generals. This hearing is about how you'll lead the Central Intelligence Agency into the future, not how you have faithfully executed missions in the past. Moreover, you conducted yourself in such a way that your supervisors have uniformly praised your conduct over your lengthy career. Those supervisors commended you for frankness, firmness and fairness. Your moral courage, your integrity, your operational judgment and professional presence, they've commented on your leadership skills and success in creating a more exclusive and fair workplace and admired your operating at great personal risk to collect intelligence necessary to keep America safe.

[09:45:00] Gina, you have the unique experience one only gains from growing up in the CIA. You have the moral strength to speak truth to power. You have learned from the past mistakes of your organization and made clear they will not be repeated.

In the days after 2001, you did not just talk about what should be done, you personally volunteered to help with CIA's response to attacks. You dared to step into the arena when our country needed you and you have done so again today. For that, I am eternally grateful.

I look forward to supporting your nomination and to ensuring its consideration without delay. I want to thank you for your willingness to serve your country, for your years of service and I look forward to your testimony.

I now recognize the vice chairman for any comments he might make.


I'd like to join you in welcoming Ms. Haspel.

Gina's, it's nice to see you again and congratulations on your nomination.

The position of director of the Central Intelligence Agency is one of the most important in our government. The CIA director serves as a key figure in our intelligence community. He or she leads the premier human intelligence agency in the world. The largest all source analysis workforce in the intelligence community. The CIA director is responsible for providing the intelligence that informs policy makers working on every national major security in foreign policy problem facing our country.

As former Director Pompeo's recent trip to North Korea demonstrated, the director can also be tasked with unusual diplomatic missions. Directors represent the face of the U.S. intelligence community to the entire world and they should be qualified for that task.

Gina Haspel is among the most experienced people to be nominated for the position of director of the CIA. While I remain disappointed that the agency was not more forthcoming in providing and declassifying information about her service, she has served our nation for 33 years in a variety of roles all over the world.

I also understand that Ms. Haspel is the first operations officer in more than five decades who has been nominated to lead the agency. And, as we see with some of the folks who are here, I know she enjoys broad support within its workforce.

But many people, and I include myself in that number, have questions about the message the Senate would be sending by confirming someone for this position who served as a supervisor in the counterterrorism center during the time of rendition, detention and interrogation programs. Ms. Haspel has acknowledged the history of the program. She stated that the law has changed and the RDI program is no longer legal. She's committed to upholding the law.

I appreciate that, but it is not enough. The secrecy inherent in the CIA's work demands that the director honor and follow the law, particularly in the dark spaces where the IC often operates, and when the glaring light of public scrutiny is non-existent. No one should get credit for simply agreeing to follow the law. That's the least we should expect from any nominee and certainly from the director of the CIA.

For those in the chamber who have argued that no one who participated in the RDI program should ever be promoted, I know there are some who feel that, and while I have expressed on many occasions my own objections to the RDI program, I think we have to recognize at that time the country had just been attacked. People throughout the government were frightened of more imminent attacks and didn't know what to do. And the RDI program was absolutely an outgrowth of that fear.

There are many at the agency who participated in the program who believed that what they were doing was both legal and authorized by the then president. What I'm not willing to do, however, is to justify this dark period in our history or to sweep away the decision to engage in torture. I believe the RDI program was wrong and we need to make sure it never happens again.

Ms. Haspel, what the committee must hear and what I must hear in -- is in your own view of the RDI program today, given the benefit of time and hindsight, should the United States ever permit detainees to be treated the way the CIA treated detainees under the program, even if you believe is was technically legal. Most importantly, in your view, was that program consistent with American values? We must hear how you would react if the president asked you to carry out some morally questionable behavior that might seem to violate a law or treaty. How will you respond if a secret DOJ opinion authorizes such behavior and gives you a, quote, get out of jail free card. On that day, if ordered, to take such actions that are inconsistent with American values, will you say yes and follow the orders? Would you keep Congress in the dark?

[09:50:57] Miss Haspel, I encourage you to take these issues seriously and to address them at length. My vote on your confirmation will be greatly influenced by how you address these questions today.

I know the committee, and I in particular, will want to hear about also your interaction with respect to the 2005 decision to destroy the CIA interrogation tapes. What role did you play? And if given the chance, would you do it again?

In the same vein, I would like to know your views from that time on about informing congressional leadership. Given the necessary secrecy of the agency's activities, it is fundamental to our system of checks and balances that you be extremely forthcoming with this committee, with the chairman and with me as vice chairman. I expect you to look for reasons to read us in rather than looking for excuses to keep us out of the loop.

Miss Haspel, you should consider carefully how you might deal with morally questionable response in the future -- requests in the future. If confirmed, you will face a White House and, frankly, in my belief, a president who does not always seem interested in hearing, much less speaking the truth. The president seems incapable or unwilling to accept the facts that might contradict his views or his policy preferences. Indeed, there have been some in this administration, even some in the president's own appointees, who have been attacked for telling a truth in public that contradicts the White House narrative. You simply cannot allow the prospects of such attacks from dissuading you of speaking truth to power.

I'm interested to know how you view your relationship with the president and how you will approach encouraging him and engaging with him. We have seen on many occasions that this president has no qualms about completely circumventing members of his own administration, even when making policy that falls within their agency's jurisdictions. At the end of the day, do you believe you'll be in the room when it matters? And if you're in the room, will the president listen to you when you tell him something is a bad idea.

Finally, Ms. Haspel, I will end with what I hope is an easy but critical request. As you know, this committee continues its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. I will expect your commitment to continuing cooperation with us and with the Mueller investigation in the future. I hope you will agree that it is critical that both of these investigations be permitted to proceed independently and completely towards their own conclusions without White House interference.

Gina, again, congratulations on your nomination and for your very important work on behalf of our country.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.

BURR: I thank the vice chairman.

It's now an honor to recognize two of our former colleagues. Welcome to each of you. And I will recognize Senator Chambliss and then Senator Bayh for their introductions.

Senator Chambliss.

SAXBY CHAMBLISS, FORMER SENATOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and to you, Vice Chairman Warner and distinguished members of the committee. It's an honor for me to be here with you today, along with my dear friend and former colleague, Senator Bayh and also with our mutual friend, Gina Haspel, obviously President Trump's nominee to be the leader at the CIA.

[09:55:02] It's hard to believe it's been a little over three years since I sat on your side of the dice and, while I miss my personal relationship with each one of you, I do not miss the daily decisions that you're having to make. But thank goodness all of you are here to do that.

I've known and admired Gina Haspel for many years.

BERMAN: All right, you're watching the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Gina Haspel to be the new CIA director, introduced by Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, who says he supports her. The ranking member, you know, Mark Warner said, he's got some questions he wants answered.

HARLOW: He has important questions about her role in waterboarding, which many see as torture, between 2000 and 2005 and the destruction of tapes recording that. That will be the focus of a lot of the questions in this hearing.

But we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more.


[09:59:52] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back.

We're continuing to monitor the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Gina Haspel, the president's pick to lead the CIA.

As we wait for these introductory remarks to begin and to hear from her directly, let's bring back in our panel.

Mark Preston, to you.

We just heard from the vice chairman, Democratic Senator Mark Warner.