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Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden On Why He Opposes Gina Haspel's CIA Nomination

Mar 13, 2018
Originally published on March 14, 2018 2:20 am

NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., about Gina Haspel's nomination for Director of the CIA. A member of Senate Intelligence Committee, he opposes confirming her, because of her involvement in enhanced interrogation techniques.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As we just heard, President Trump's nominee to run the CIA has detractors. Many Democrats say Gina Haspel's role in the torture of terrorism suspects disqualifies her. One of those critics is Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and joins us now. Welcome back to the program.

RON WYDEN: Thanks for having me again.

SHAPIRO: In a statement today you accused the government of covering up disturbing facts about Mrs. Haspel's background. What are you referring to?

WYDEN: Well, first, let's try to put this into some context. The president said during the campaign that he would bring back - and I quote here - "a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding." Now, in the case of Mrs. Haspel, she really hasn't said anything public on these matters. And it seems to me the American people have a right to know exactly how their new national security team is going to approach these issues given what the president said in the campaign.

I start on these issues with the views of John McCain, who knows a lot about torture. I find it morally repugnant. And John McCain says torture just doesn't work. And I think what we're going to have to do in these hearings is really flesh out where this nominee stands.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask - you've seen classified material the public has not seen. Are you aware of anything specific in Mrs. Haspel's background that in your view would disqualify her that has not been made public?

WYDEN: Well, of course I cannot comment on classified, you know, matters. I mean, there have been numerous public reports linking her to the interrogation and detention program, the torture program, CIA officials connecting those matters to her. I mean, our Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report showed that this was a brutal program. The CIA lied about what they did to detainees. They made false claims that torture stopped terrorist plots. They lied to the Congress, to the Justice Department, to the press and to the public. So the question for the hearings with Mrs. Haspel is, what part of all of this might she have played?

SHAPIRO: We just heard from John Bennett, the former head of the National Clandestine Service, who said she stepped up to do a dirty job for the safety of the country at a time when the Bush administration declared those methods legal. What do you say to that?

WYDEN: Well, I don't outsource my oversight responsibilities to anybody. I heard his soundbite. But when you have a nominee who for all practical purposes has not said anything in public about her views, the Congress has a responsibility, the intelligence committee has a responsibility to do vigorous oversight on these issues.

SHAPIRO: We also spoke with John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who said you cannot find a seasoned CIA professional who has not been involved in some controversial program. Does this come with the territory?

WYDEN: Well, let's be clear about this. What we're going to do in these hearings is not divulge what are called sources and methods. Sources and methods are sacrosanct. That kind of information can't be given out. But I do want to go into her background in a way that doesn't compromise sources and methods. And by the way, Senator Martin Heinrich and I have tried to get that information declassified and we haven't been able to.

SHAPIRO: Are you prepared to hold up her nomination, just in the few seconds we have left, until you get some of that declassified?

WYDEN: I'm going to insist on transparency and accountability. I don't think I'll be the only senator who does so.

SHAPIRO: Senator Ron Wyden, thank you very much for joining us.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: He's a Democrat, a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee representing the great state of Oregon.

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