California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sunday bristled at the suggestion she is reflexively opposing President Trump's nominee for CIA director to bolster her liberal bona fides during her contested re-election campaign in the left-wing state.
In a testy exchange on CBS' "Face The Nation," Feinstein insisted she is only doing her "due diligence" on Gina Haspel, 61, and played down the role of her insurgent ultra-progressive challenger, state Sen. Kevin de León, in her decisionmaking.
Feinstein was pointedly rebuked in February by the California Democratic Party, which declined to endorse her run for Senate during its annual convention. A majority of delegates backed León.
"I am of the opinion that putting somebody right now at the head of the CIA who played a role in, let's say, torture is not necessarily appropriate," Feinstein told CBS host Margaret Brennan, echoing her past statements on Haspel. "I have met with Gina Haspel. I know her somewhat. I know that she is talented but I also know that she was fully supportive of the program that many of us are very critical of."
Haspel ran the CIA's first overseas detention site in Thailand, where imprisoned militants were repeatedly waterboarded, The New York Times reported in February 2017. The CIA declassified and released a 2011 memo clearing wrongdoing for her role in drafting an order to destroy videotaped evidence of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
In March, Feinstein drew widespread criticism from California progressives for referring to Haspel as a "good deputy director."
Feinstein said she wouldn't make a final decision on whether she supports Haspel until after her confirmation hearing.
Haspel would be the first woman to ever lead the CIA.
"I care about who is head of the CIA, and I'm going to do my due diligence."
"There are those who are questioning whether it's possible for you personally to be supportive of her, given the pressures you are feeling from progressives back in your home state of California right now, that you just can't afford to support any Trump nominee," Brennan said. "Can you explain how you're weighing those things?"
Feinstein shot back: "Well, that isn't correct. Obviously, that's your interpretation of it, and you're welcome to that interpretation.
"I care about who is head of the CIA, and I'm going to do my due diligence, have a chance to ask her questions in the public arena and we'll do just that, and then we'll make up my mind whether I believe she's an appropriate person to head this agency," she continued.
While the vastly better-funded and more established Feinstein is widely expected to defeat León during the June primary, the upstart challenger is continuing to build momentum.
Earlier this month, billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer backed León, saying he "has proven himself to be the best of the next generation, and I am proud to support him for U.S. Senate."