Controversy flares over classified Gina Haspel torture memo as confirmation vote looms

The Senate Intelligence Committee will vote Wednesday on Trump's pick to head the CIA.

Gina Haspel, center, is during her confirmation hearing for CIA Director before the Senate Intelligence Committee. CREDIT: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Gina Haspel, center, is during her confirmation hearing for CIA Director before the Senate Intelligence Committee. CREDIT: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Senators and their staff lost full access Monday to a memo that reportedly casts Gina Haspel, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, in an unfavorable light, according to NBC News and The Intercept.

The move comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee is set to vote on Haspel’s nomination Wednesday morning in a closed session.

The classified memo was stored in a secure Senate facility where members and their staff with the appropriate clearance could access it. But the Senate Intelligence Committee pulled the memo from that facility Monday, after reporters began asking questions about it over the weekend.

It’s unclear whether the Intelligence Committee has restored full access since. In an email Monday morning published by The Intercept, Elizabeth Falcone, an aid to Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), told staff they would only be able to view the memo with “urgent need,” and only by appointment:

“Folks – the classified Intel staff memo that has been available on haspel ?is currently not at senate security and unable to be viewed. If you have urgent need to read it, please call me or have your chief call mine. Thx.”

But NBC News, citing unnamed officials, reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee restored full access to the memo hours after pulling it.

Warner’s office declined to comment to ThinkProgress, citing the memo’s classification.

Trump’s nomination of Haspel, a career intelligence official who would be the first woman to lead the agency, is controversial.


In late 2002, Haspel oversaw the interrogation of a suspected Al Qaeda member at a CIA black site in Thailand using brutal techniques like water boarding — a form of controlled drowning — that Congress has since outlawed. Haspel later drafted a memo that authorized the destruction of 92 tapes of harsh interrogations at the black site in Thailand — including, according to CIA records, two tapes of interrogations she oversaw.

The Senate memo, written by Democratic committee staff, includes comments Haspel made in support of the CIA’s harsh interrogation program while it was still ongoing, four sources familiar with it told NBC News. It’s reportedly based, in part, on a still-classified Department of Justice investigation by John Durham into both the CIA’s interrogation program and the tape destruction incident.

Reports Monday were split on the memo’s significance, with sources telling NBC News it would likely not change Haspel’s changes of nomination while people briefed on the memo told The Intercept that “it is not possible to read it and come away without serious doubts about whether Haspel ought to be confirmed.”

Haspel vowed not to restart the CIA’s interrogation program during open testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week and said she supports Congress’ steps to outlaw the specific interrogation techniques she oversaw. But she also appeared to dodge questions about whether those techniques were immoral.

Haspel’s chances of confirmation appear strong. Republican Sens. Rand Paul (KY) and John McCain (AZ) have come out strongly against Haspel for her involvement in the interrogation program. But two Democratic Sens. — Joe Donnelly (IN) and Joe Manchin (WV), who sits on the Intelligence Committee — support her.


Warner, the committee vice chair, is considering a vote for Haspel, according to both NBC News and The Intercept. Other lawmakers are still on the fence. In a letter sent last Thursday, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make Durham’s full report, on which the Senate memo is partially based, available for all senators to review.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) echoed Flake’s call for greater transparency after reviewing classified documents related to Haspel.

“I have never in my life wished that more classified information could be available to the public,” McCaskill said, according to HuffPost.