WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul said on Wednesday he would oppose President Donald Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state and CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to become the new director of the CIA.
Paul added he would “do everything I can” to block them. He was the first of Trump’s fellow Republicans to come out against the nominations, which the president announced on Tuesday. Paul was the only Republican who voted last year against Pompeo’s nomination to head the CIA.
He said Pompeo and Haspel both supported war in Iraq and want war in Iran, which he opposes, and he criticized both for supporting the use of waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques widely considered torture.
Haspel has faced strong criticism for overseeing a secret Central Intelligence Agency prison where detainees were tortured in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“I find it just amazing that anyone would consider having this woman at the head of the CIA. My opposition to her is over her direct participation in interrogation and her gleeful enjoyment at the suffering of someone who was being tortured,” Paul told a news conference.
Pompeo, a former Republican member of the House of Representatives, was confirmed as CIA director with the support of two-thirds of the Senate last year. Many legislators have said they are happy with his work at the agency, and expect he will be confirmed as the United States’ top diplomat.
Another Republican senator, John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, also had questions about Haspel, but did not say he would oppose her. McCain has not been in Washington to vote this year as he undergoes cancer treatment at home in Arizona.
Haspel is respected for her work in the clandestine service and held in high regard at the CIA.
An intelligence officer who worked with Haspel denied she was anything like a “gleeful participant,” saying: “That makes it sound like she was holding the bucket and laughing, when all she was was a bureaucrat following orders.”
A CIA spokesman said the agency was aware of Paul’s statement and had no immediate comment.
A White House spokesman said Haspel already had “pretty public bipartisan support,” including from Leon Panetta, who led the CIA under former Democratic President Barack Obama. “We look forward to her confirmation,” spokesman Raj Shah told reporters.
Republicans have a slim 51-49 Senate majority, so it would take little intra-party dissent to block a nomination - but only if all Democrats vote no.
Paul could make the process difficult, particularly for Pompeo. He is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hold Pompeo’s confirmation hearing and vote on whether to report his nomination favourably to the full Senate.
Paul’s opposition could prevent that, if every Democrat opposed the nominee, although the Senate’s Republican leaders could hold a vote anyway.
Committee Democrats said it was too early to say how they would vote.
Senate Republicans said they expected both confirmation hearings to be held soon. Pompeo’s is expected in April.
Every Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel voted against Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in January 2017, but the panel advanced his nomination by an 11-10 vote because every Republican, including Paul, backed him.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Mark Hosenball, John Walcott and Makini Brice; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney