WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Democrat urged President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director on Monday to declassify more records of her work as a top official at the agency, including any possible involvement in its interrogation programme.
Charging a “lack of transparency,” Senator Mark Warner made the request two days before the panel holds a confirmation hearing where Gina Haspel will face questioning about her history with the CIA programme that used interrogation methods denounced as torture.
The CIA responded by saying it had sent more classified documents to the Senate covering her “actual and outstanding record,” beginning with her work for the agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“We encourage every senator to take the time to read the entire set of documents,” CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said.
Trump on Monday defended his choice of Haspel after sources said she sought to withdraw her nomination because of the controversy over her role in the programme.
“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists ... Win Gina!” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
Trump nominated Haspel, who would be the first woman to lead the intelligence agency, to succeed Mike Pompeo, who has become secretary of state.
Haspel met with Republican and Democratic senators on Monday. She told reporters the sessions had been “great.”
In his letter to Haspel, which was seen by Reuters, Warner said the CIA had not released enough unclassified information about “all of the leadership and supervisory positions you held at CIA headquarters.”
He said he was concerned the agency “has opened itself up to criticism” that it released only favourable information about her work, “while suppressing related items that could reflect negatively.”
Another committee Democrat, Senator Martin Heinrich, also called for more transparency, saying: “She as the acting director is the person who can make that happen.”
None of the intelligence committee’s seven Democrats has publicly backed Haspel because of concerns about her role in the now-defunct Rendition, Detention and Interrogation programme former President George W. Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The votes of the committee’s eight Republicans, however, would be enough to send her nomination to the full Senate. No committee Republican has publicly expressed opposition to her, although Senator Susan Collins said she had a good meeting with Haspel but would decide whether to support her nomination after the hearing.
An undercover officer for most of her more than 30-year career, Haspel in 2002 briefly served as CIA station chief in Thailand, where the agency ran one of the secret prisons where suspected al Qaeda extremists were interrogated using procedures that included waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
Democrats and human rights groups have also voiced concern that as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, then the CIA’s clandestine service chief, Haspel drafted a 2005 cable ordering the destruction of interrogation videotapes.
Haspel’s supporters argue that while she drafted the cable, Rodriguez sent it without the approval of CIA Director Porter Goss and without informing Haspel that he would do so.
Haspel, according to two sources, has assured intelligence panel senators in private interviews that she will never restart any CIA detention and interrogation programme, and will make the pledge publicly at Wednesday’s hearing.
Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Peter Cooney