WASHINGTON ― Hours after President Donald Trump’s CIA director nominee Gina Haspel refused to condemn torture during her confirmation hearing, a Republican Senate candidate in Wisconsin blasted Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) for her silence about the nomination amid widespread Democratic skepticism toward Haspel.
Baldwin has not yet taken a public position because she has not had the chance to meet with the nominee, her office told HuffPost Wednesday evening. Haspel canceled a scheduled meeting and they are attempting to reschedule it.
Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) argued that Baldwin would be backing terrorism if she opposed Trump’s controversial nominee.
“After Sen. Baldwin’s outrageous support of the Iran deal, it’s no surprise that she would rather give the man behind the 9/11 attacks and other terrorists hugs and safe spaces than take adequate action to protect America and confirm Gina Haspel quickly,” Vukmir said in a press release. “This is a dangerous time for America, and our CIA director should be willing to do what it takes to protect our nation, our citizens and our freedoms.”
Vukmir’s press release included a bizarre image showing Baldwin with Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, the man accused of planning the Sept. 11 attacks and a torture victim, who asked to submit testimony about Haspel. The image also labeled her as being with “team terrorists.”
Haspel, the Trump nominee, played a role in the Bush administration’s torture and detention program after Sept. 11. She oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, where agents waterboarded at least two detainees (one before her tenure). She was also involved in destroying videotapes that showed the CIA interrogating its first detainee under the program.
Some Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have said they will not vote for Haspel, in keeping with the general post-Bush administration consensus on Capitol Hill against using torture. Most Democrats are expected to eventually vote against her. Baldwin is among the senators who hasn’t publicly taken a position.
Trump, who has spoken approvingly of waterboarding and other torture tactics, has loudly supported Haspel. The day before her hearing, he tweeted, “Gina Haspel, my highly respected nominee to lead the CIA, is being praised for the fact that she has been, and alway will be, TOUGH ON TERROR!”
Subjecting captured terrorist suspects like Muhammed to torture and imprisonment outside the regular U.S. justice system at Guantanamo Bay has prevented the U.S. from successfully convicting them. Most terrorism analysts say the tough tactics actually make counterterrorism work more difficult ― by complicating prosecution, prompting false statements and making U.S. partners abroad less likely to hand suspects over.
Baldwin is a top target for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. But the one-term senator is popular in her purple state, which is showing some signs of a Democratic resurgence after Trump eked out a narrow win there in 2016. She released her latest ad, highlighting her work on the opioid crisis, this week.
An establishment favorite, Vukmir is one of two high-profile candidates seeking to win the GOP nomination to run against Baldwin in an Aug. 14 primary. Her attack comes before a Republican party convention in Milwaukee planned for this weekend.