President Trump’s pick to run the C.I.A., Gina Haspel, told White House officials last week that she would withdraw her nomination if they were concerned her role in the brutal interrogation of a Qaeda suspect would scuttle her confirmation and draw the intelligence agency into a fresh controversy over a program it disavowed years ago, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussions.
Ms. Haspel’s offer on Friday to withdraw her nomination sent administration officials scurrying and a group of top aides, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, headed to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., to prevent Ms. Haspel from dropping out, these people said.
A career veteran of the agency, Ms. Haspel told White House officials that she was worried less about her own reputation than about the potential damage to the C.I.A. from a bruising confirmation battle. The C.I.A. has struggled to put the legacy of its interrogation policies behind the agency.
Ms. Haspel was ultimately convinced not to withdraw her name and is expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. On Sunday afternoon, Ms. Haspel was prepping for the hearing with administration officials.
Early Monday, Mr. Trump said Democrats want Ms. Haspel to withdraw because she “was too tough on Terrorists.”
“Think of 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,” Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet.
Democrats have said they are concerned with her role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program and her involvement in the destruction of interrogation videotapes. They have not said, as Mr. Trump claims, that she was too tough on terrorists.
Ms. Haspel was passed over for a promotion during the Obama administration, as the C.I.A. sought to distance itself from the interrogation program. It was not immediately clear what Mr. Trump meant by highlighting in his tweet that Ms. Haspel is a woman.
The last-minute scramble came ahead of what is expected to be a tough grilling of Ms. Haspel over her role in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, including secret prisons the agency established around the world to interrogate suspects. Ms. Haspel briefly oversaw one of those prisons, in Thailand. The program, which has since been renounced by the C.I.A., included techniques like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinements in boxes and other interrogation techniques.
A 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee declared that the program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects was deeply flawed and less effective than the C.I.A. let on. It also found that C.I.A. officials regularly misled lawmakers and the White House about the information it obtained and failed to provide basic oversight of secret prisons it established around the world.
The extent of Ms. Haspel’s role in the program is not known; only the report’s executive summary was released, and it obscured the identities of agency operatives. Ms. Haspel’s offer to withdraw was first reported on Sunday by The Washington Post.
Ms. Haspel was embroiled in another dark chapter in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program — one that is likely to resurface during her confirmation hearing. In late 2005, she played a role in a decision to destroy videotapes documenting the interrogation of Qaeda operatives at the Thailand facility. Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the agency’s clandestine service, ordered the destruction of videotapes of the waterboarding sessions. Ms. Haspel, serving as Mr. Rodriguez’s chief of staff, was a strong advocate for getting rid of the tapes, former C.I.A. officers said.
Years later, when the C.I.A. wanted to name Ms. Haspel to run clandestine operations, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who then chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee, blocked the promotion over Ms. Haspel’s role in the interrogation program and the destruction of the tapes.
For the White House, Ms. Haspel’s confirmation comes on the heels of a tougher-than-expected confirmation for Mike Pompeo, the former C.I.A. director, as secretary of state. Mr. Pompeo, who is close to Ms. Haspel, ran into headwinds on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where several Democrats announced they would oppose him.
Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, also expressed reservations about Mr. Pompeo, though he eventually relented, and the Senate confirmed him by a vote of 57 to 42.
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