Trump's CIA pick faces growing Hill scrutiny over destruction of interrogation tapes

CNN/ Newswire | 4/17/2018, 4:49 p.m.
President Donald Trump's choice to run the CIA has privately faced a barrage of questions from senators over her role ...
President Donald Trump's pick to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, would be the first female director of the intelligence agency if confirmed.

Haspel was chief of staff in 2005 to the head of the CIA's clandestine service, Jose Rodriguez, when he ordered the destruction of the tapes documenting the CIA's harsh interrogations of terrorism detainees that critics say amount to torture, including waterboarding. The issue caused a major uproar at the time, leading to the naming of a special prosecutor, who later declined to press charges.

In his book, Rodriguez explained that that he asked his chief of staff -- then Haspel -- to draft the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes, although he said that the ultimate decision was his. "This had been such an ordeal that I wanted to personally handle what I thought was the end of a long bureaucratic nightmare," Rodriguez wrote. "My chief of staff drafted a cable approving the action that we had been trying to accomplish for so long."

Rodriguez argues that he was "not depriving anyone of information about what was done or what was said. I was just getting rid of some ugly visuals that could put the lives of my people at risk. I took a deep breath of weary satisfaction and hit send."

But others involved have said that Haspel was an advocate within the Bush administration for destroying the tapes — and not just following Rodriguez's orders.

John Rizzo, the former acting CIA general counsel, wrote in his 2014 book that Rodriguez and his chief of staff "were the staunchest advocates inside the building for destroying the tapes."

Rizzo said that Rodriguez and his chief of staff, who isn't named in the book, continued to press the matter amid his own opposition to destroying the tapes, along with then-CIA Director Porter Goss, the White House counsel's office and the director of National Intelligence. "Jose and his chief of staff kept coming to me," Rizzo wrote. "On the edges of meetings on other subjects, in the hallways, they would raise the subject almost every week."

Rizzo declined to comment further to CNN, beyond saying that he stood by his book.

Haspel is only referred to as Rodriguez's chief of staff and not by name in both books because she was undercover in the role.

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said Haspel has been "consistent and clear" to lawmakers that the cable was drafted at Rodriguez's request, saying she consulted with the "affected officers" and she drafted the cable "with the understanding" she would raise it with Goss.

"When she subsequently saw that Rodriguez had sent the cable to the field, she asked him whether he had raised the matter with Goss," the spokesman said. "Rodriguez told her that he had not talked to Goss and he had sent the cable out based on his understanding of his authority."

"She wasn't a clerk. ... She was the chief of staff'

Not all lawmakers have been satisfied with those assurances.

King added that she appeared to be an "advocate for the destruction of evidence," though he said he had not confirmed that yet as he seeks more details.