CNN | 2018-7-18 | Español

Opinion: Progressive outrage about Gina Haspel is unfair

Updated: 1:37 PM ET, Wed May 9, 2018

Editor's Note: Carrie Sheffield, a conservative commentator, is the founder of Bold, a digital news network committed to bipartisan dialogue. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.

(CNN) - Critics of President Donald Trump often say that he's failing to attract top talent to fill his leadership posts. The irony is that once the President seeks to fill vacancies with qualified nominees, those same critics then seek to undermine their approval.

A case in point is Gina Haspel, Trump's nominee to head the CIA. Haspel's progressive critics are treating her unfairly, using her as a scapegoat for policies around interrogation techniques that weren't under her control and were backed by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), which operated above her pay grade.

Robert Turner, former counsel to President Reagan's Intelligence Oversight Board and co-founder of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia, put it well in The Wall Street Journal: "Ms. Haspel is not an attorney, and she had every reason to rely in good faith on the legal memoranda produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel upholding the controversial techniques. As former ACLU Deputy Legal Adviser Jameel Jaffer recently noted, OLC opinions 'have the force of law within the executive branch.'"

Perhaps we can argue about whether the OLC operates without sufficient transparency -- Jaffer says "there's something disturbingly backwards, and even undemocratic, about a system that allows the government to conceal and withhold opinions that have the force of law unless and until someone requests them."

Progressives like to say that Trump has no respect for the rule of law, yet this argument around the OLC is a far different debate than one about whether Haspel should have undermined the rule of law and orders of her superiors. Would progressives have preferred that Haspel had gone rogue and disrespected the rule of law during her long CIA career? (Ironically, it's journalists such as those at ProPublica who have gone rogue in reporting erroneously about Haspel's career.)

And a debate around the OLC's interpretation of the interrogation techniques is a far different battle than one over whether Haspel is qualified to head the CIA after a distinguished career. Haspel is a public servant who started as a case officer in Africa, held the position of CIA station chief four times during her 33-year intelligence career, helped navigate CIA's Russia operation, and was a senior-level supervisor in counterterrorism. She would be the first career officer in 52 years to rise through the ranks to the CIA's helm and be the first woman to fill that role (funny how liberal feminists seek only to empower women associated with Democratic presidents).

Haspel has won the backing of national security officials from the right and left, including former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), former Obama CIA director Leon Panetta, immediate past CIA director Mike Pompeo (who named her his top deputy), Michael Hayden, former head of both the CIA and the National Security Agency under George W. Bush, as well as James Clapper, former director of national intelligence in the Obama administration. Haspel has even won the backing of John Brennan, CIA director under Obama and an outspoken critic of Trump.

Haspel has also won the backing of Jeremy Bash, a former Obama administration Defense Department official and CIA chief of staff, who called Haspel "the rare CIA director nominee that both parties should love. "

"We need more people like Gina Haspel. Democrats and progressive organizations should be encouraged that a nonpartisan, professional woman has been nominated to be CIA director," Bash wrote.

Yet the progressive outrage around Haspel, who reportedly last weekend considered withdrawing her nomination -- triggering Trump to offer a statement of support -- is symptomatic of a far broader mania that has captivated Democrats on Capitol Hill, particularly when it comes to obstructing the President.

As of May 3, among President Trump's nominees, 39% of nominations had either failed or stalled in the Senate, a percentage far higher than other presidents at this point in their terms (30% for Obama, 28% for George W. Bush, 18% for Bill Clinton and 13% for George H.W. Bush), according to the Political Appointee Tracker at the Partnership For Public Service. And the average wait time for Trump's nominees, according to the same tracker, is 84 days, much longer than the 67 days for Obama, 45 for George W. Bush, 52 for Bill Clinton and 53 for George H.W. Bush.

Haspel shouldn't take the Democratic obstructionism personally. After all, she has had a long and successful, nonpartisan career of substantive service. It would be unfortunate if Haspel's career and our country's safety were derailed because of the left's politicking.


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