Kentucky, West Virginia senators likely critical to spy chief's future

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- A Kentucky woman may soon break the glass ceiling of the nation's spy agency, but only if she can convince enough lawmakers to put aside concerns about her ties to torturous interrogations.

President Donald Trump installed Gina Haspel as acting C.I.A. director a little more than a month ago, and now it's up to the Senate to decide if she can keep the job on a permanent basis. The president's pick to become America's next spy chief sat through an interrogation on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.

"I know what our nation needs from CIA," she told senators, "and that is truth, integrity, and courage."

Before she worked her way up the ranks of the C.I.A., from undercover operative to second-in-command, Haspel spent her early-childhood in Kentucky. She would later return, attending the University of Kentucky and graduating from the University of Louisville. A senator from the Bluegrass State now stands between her and her next role.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) isn't alone in his concern about Haspel's former management of a secret CIA detention facility. He declined to discuss Haspel's nomination with us this week, but recently tweeted, "who would Jesus torture?" The tweet also contained a link to an editorial from a right-leaning publication entitled, 'the Conservative Case Against Gina Haspel'.

Wednesday morning, lawmakers asked Haspel if she would allow the agency to waterboard suspects again if the president ordered it. The interrogation technique makes subjects feel as if they're drowning. Though it's no longer permitted by military standards, the president has publicly called to re-instate the practice.

"On my watch, C.I.A. will not restart a detention and interrogation program," Haspel said.

Haspel largely ducked questions about whether the C.I.A. acted morally when it did use the technique, and later destroyed video tapes of controversial interrogation methods. She did defend the agency's actions as legal at the time, and justifiable in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Haspel did address her potential place in history during her opening remarks. But, neither she nor senators spent much time exploring the topic during the hearing. "It is not my way to trumpet the fact that I'm a woman up for the top job at CIA," Haspel said, "but I would be remiss in not remarking on."

Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) did not sit in on the hearing, but spoke before it began on the Senate floor. He called Haspel the most qualified person - man or woman - to ever be nominated for the job. His view represents that of most of his fellow republicans.

"Ms. Haspel is eminently qualified, she's widely esteemed, and she's absolutely the right person at the right moment," McConnell said.

Haspel ultimately needs the a tie vote or better in the Senate to be confirmed. Functionally, Republicans currently hold 50 seats to the democrats 49, as Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) has been away from D.C. undergoing cancer treatment.

White House spokespeople said they aren't giving up on winning Sen. Paul's vote. "The president enjoys a very good relationship with Sen. Paul and respects his positions enormously," said Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short, "we hope that Sen. Paul will keep an open mind."

Even if Paul and others break from their party, Haspel could get the support she needs from across the aisle. Sen. Joe Manchin- a democrat from Trump-friendly West Virginia -- faces a tough race for re-election this November, and appears poised to side with the president over his party on Haspel. Other conservative democrats may as well.

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