A second Democrat on Saturday said he would vote to confirm Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA director, moving the agency veteran a significant step closer to confirmation.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said he would support her after a “tough, frank and extensive discussion,” with Haspel, making him the second Democrat to back her nomination after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
Democrats have expressed concern about Haspel’s involvement in the post 9/11-era interrogation and detention programs. In her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, while she refused to criticize colleagues for their conduct, she pledged that there would be no return to those programs under her leadership.
“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership on my watch CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation program,” she said.
Haspel was chief of a base at a black-site prison in Thailand in 2002, where techniques such as waterboarding were used on terror suspects. Democrats have also complained that the agency has been selective in its declassification of information about her.
She came under particular fire from Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who scolded her for what she saw as her evasiveness in questioning.
"You also, in this hearing, have a responsibility to answer the questions being asked of you," she told Haspel. Harris has since said she will vote against Haspel’s confirmation.
But Donnelly said that after his conversation and reviewing her testimony he would back her.
“I believe that she has learned from the past, and that the CIA under her leadership can help our country confront serious international threats and challenges,” he said in a statement. “Importantly, Ms. Haspel expressed to me her commitment to be responsive to congressional oversight and to provide her unvarnished assessment – both to members of Congress and the president.
“For those reasons, and after careful consideration, I will support Ms. Haspel’s nomination to lead the agency to which she has dedicated her career,” he added.
Haspel’s confirmation had been complicated by an intent to vote “no” by Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY., and also Arizona Sen. John McCain’s absence -- meaning that Haspel requires at least one Democrat to vote for her. McCain has also opposed her confirmation.
A senior Democratic source told Fox News this week that it was unclear if the Senate Democratic leadership would whip against Haspel, and that several Democrats may eventually vote for her.
The White House has noted that Haspel has backing from a number of Obama- and Bush-era intelligence officials including former CIA Directors Leon Panetta, John Brennan and Michael Hayden.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, was eyed as 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.; and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Republicans have expressed confidence about Haspel’s confirmation, though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation was particularly grueling. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Fox News this week that he expected Haspel to be confirmed “handily.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.