Democratic Sen. Manchin backs CIA nominee Haspel after hearing

Gina Haspel, President Trump’s pick for CIA director, moved a big step closer to confirmation Wednesday as moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he would support her -- just hours after she was grilled by the senator's colleagues on the Intelligence Committee.

While GOP lawmakers and former intel chiefs have backed Haspel, she faced significant skepticism from Democrats unhappy at her role in the post-9/11-era interrogation and detention program.

Haspel would not be drawn into criticizing her CIA colleagues, but she pledged early on in her confirmation hearing that under her leadership, those interrogation techniques would not be resumed.


Her responses, which included her affirming her “moral compass,” appeared to have persuaded Manchin that she is a “person of great character.”

“She has earned the trust of her colleagues in the intelligence community and her intellect, steady temperament, vast knowledge of threats we face, and dedication to our country are undeniable,” Manchin said in a statement. “These attributes make her supremely qualified to serve as our next CIA Director.”

Manchin, who sits on the committee, represents West Virginia. The hearing came one day after his state held its primaries, setting the stage for what could be a tough reelection fight. Manchin is one of several moderate Democrats who could flip to back Haspel, even as most in the caucus withhold support.

Democratic critics have also complained that the CIA has failed to declassify enough information about her career, leaving the public in the dark about what sort of CIA director she may be. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has also said he will not vote for her confirmation.

Haspel, currently the deputy CIA director, was chief of a base at a black-site prison in Thailand in 2002, where controversial interrogation techniques were used on detainees -- including waterboarding. Her defenders on both sides of the aisle say she is supremely qualified for the CIA's top job, however.

Paul’s “no” vote, as well as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s absence, means that if all other Republicans vote “yes,” Haspel would still need one Democratic vote to secure confirmation. Manchin's endorsement puts her in solid position to be confirmed, if all other Republicans hold together in support.

A senior Democratic source told Fox News that it was unclear if the Senate Democratic leadership would whip against Haspel, and that several Democrats may eventually vote for her.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, is one Democrat who may vote for her, as well as Angus King, I-Maine. Other Democrats in play are Sens. Doug Jones, D-Ala.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.; and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Fox News that he expects Haspel to pick up the votes of a number of Democrats and  be confirmed “handily.” Should she be confirmed, she would be the first woman to lead the agency.

Haspel's is the latest in a series of somewhat grueling Trump-era confirmation fights. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who Haspel would succeed as CIA chief, was confirmed only after a contentious vote. Last month, nominee for VA secretary Dr. Ronnie Jackson withdrew from consideration after allegations over his conduct as White House doctor.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.