Nation

On eve of key Gina Haspel vote, Maine senator laments John McCain’s absence

Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, spoke during the confirmation hearing for CIA director nominee Gina Haspel last week. King plans to vote against Haspel.
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Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, spoke during the confirmation hearing for CIA director nominee Gina Haspel last week. King plans to vote against Haspel.

WASHINGTON — The one person who might be able to stop the Senate from voting through President Trump’s pick to lead the CIA is stuck thousands of miles from the Capitol as a key committee prepares to vote on her nomination.

Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee will likely vote on Wednesday to advance Gina Haspel’s nomination, despite questions about her time overseeing a black site where a detainee was tortured and about her role in destroying evidence of torture years later.

Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who is away from the Senate amid treatment for brain cancer, released a statement last week saying Haspel’s refusal to rebuke torture as immoral in her hearing was “disqualifying.”

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But opponents of Haspel’s nomination lament that McCain’s fellow Republicans are paying little heed to the Navy veteran’s warnings about Haspel.

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“It’s one thing to vote [when] John McCain is in Sedona, it’s another thing to look him in the eye and tell him you’re not going to vote with him,” Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who plans to vote against Haspel, told the Globe. “There’s no one in the Senate who has even remotely the credibility he does on an issue of this kind.”

McCain, a war hero who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, is one of just two Republicans who have announced they will vote against her. Two red-state Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly, already announced they will back her.

McCain is known as a tough wrangler of votes, and his credibility on the issue of torture is widely respected among his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. In November, McCain convinced Manchin to vote against Steven Bradbury to become the general counsel of the Department of Transportation because of his role in crafting the memos that authorized the CIA’s use of torture in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

McCain said last week he found it “disturbing” that Haspel had a role overseeing torture and could not back her nomination. But by the time he released the statement, two key swing votes on the committee, Manchin and GOP moderate Senator Susan Collins of Maine, had already announced they would vote for Haspel.

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Shortly afterward, a White House official joked in an internal staff meeting that McCain was “dying anyway” and thus his opinion on Haspel didn’t matter. Her colleagues leaked the remarks to the media, drawing rebukes from McCain’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle. The aide, Kelly Sadler, has not publicly apologized.

Though Haspel’s nomination has gained steam, it’s not yet a given that she will confirmed. King and other senators are still pushing the Trump administration to allow all senators access to a Justice Department report detailing Haspel’s role in ordering the destruction of tapes that showed waterboarding in 2005.

Intelligence committee members have seen this report, but so far other senators, who will vote on Haspel’s nomination later this month, have not. The CIA declassified an internal report that cleared her of wrongdoing in the matter, saying she was just following orders.

“I think it ought to be made available to all senators if not the general public,” King said of the Justice Department report.

He said Haspel had not been straightforward to him in her answers at her hearing about whether she was aware the White House and other administration officials were against destroying the tapes at the time.

Liz Goodwin can be reached at elizabeth.goodwin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizcgoodwin