Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he is delaying the release of a decision on the nomination of Gina Haspel to head the CIA “until we know more about this nominee.” Many questions remain unanswered and a two-week delay cannot guarantee a smooth transition in the short term.
There are plenty of reasons to be concerned, most of them coming from conservative pundits and commentators. After all, Haspel is an enemy of democracy. She had been serving as CIA director under former President Donald Trump’s predecessor and is now considered a threat to the president’s agenda. The new administration’s response to the firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey in May and that his replacement, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, continues to promote anti-Trump rhetoric, may work in Haspel’s favor. There is also the fear that she could use her career as an agent against the president. Of course, the now 87-year-old female Supreme Court justice may have a different concern. Her lifetime appointment is at stake now and she will soon be on the next Supreme Court over the age of 85.
Whatever the reason, it is hard to ignore the fact that her vote in favor of Obamacare, not to mention her outspoken support for same-sex marriage, has been a source of cause célèbre among some conservatives and even liberals. She may have become a target of political attacks and even now some anti-gay activists are reacting to her comments on marriage. The shifting nature of public opinion on matters of social justice is not unusual, nor is it unique. But this is by no means the last time the concept of empathy has been significant in American political life.Another key question, unfortunately, remains unanswered. How do you fire a leader for breaking with the President by outing him to his opponents? If I were Pompeo, I would not be confident in the ability of the CIA to function without her or her now well-established and lethal opinions. There are still areas where AG Nielsen’s expertise and experience over the course of her career in intelligence may be helpful, such as on torture and counterintelligence missions. But does she have the ability to get into Haspel’s head, making such tough decisions or minimizing her role in firing operations?
I disagree that such issues are entirely out of the control of the White House. The president is a leader and the executive branch has to be able to govern. This tendency for hyper-partisanship and the constant finger-pointing between administration and congressional factions may be exaggerated. However, it may be leading us away from a more shared vision for our country. Nominees to the federal bench must be accountable to the people and issued the opposite of political positions. There is very little basis for trust between members of Congress and the president. Members of the national security community are doing their jobs and their duties, but the president knows they were not, and he believes he can fire them, regardless of the consequences for the country. This notion that they are doing it for the president personally may be ill-advised, but there is no substitute for the person willing to stand up for the people as opposed to take a paycheck and be fired.
Unfortunately, questions about these issues will hang over the nomination for months as the administration waits for some answers on both questions. It is time for those nominations to come forward and for there to be some answers for our nation, even if they are not answered on Thursday.