As the Senate prepares for a Wednesday vote on whether to confirm Gina Haspel as director of the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee has restricted access to a classified memo that Democratic staff put together, detailing Haspel’s role in advocating for torture and later destroying related evidence.
On Monday morning, Elizabeth Falcone, a senior aide for Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, announced the decision to restrict access in an email to Democratic legislative directors. The memo had previously been available for senators and staff with security clearances to review in a Secure Compartmented Information Facility housed within Congress. Staff will no longer be able to review the document, and senators will only be able to do so upon request. It has been removed from the SCIF.
In Falcone’s email, which a Senate source shared with The Intercept, she said that the memo was “unable to be viewed.” (Over the weekend, both The Intercept and NBC News inquired about the existence of the memo, and NBC reported Monday afternoon that it had been removed from the Senate’s secure space.)
Folks – the classified Intel staff memo that has been available on haspel ?is currently not at senate security and unable to be viewed. If you have urgent need to read it, please call me or have your chief call mine. Thx.
The decision to restrict access to the memo is especially unusual given that Warner just last week criticized the CIA for an “unacceptable” lack of transparency in the run-up to Haspel’s hearing.
“Given that we are only two days from the date of your confirmation hearing on May 9, 2018, this lack of transparency for the American people about someone nominated for a cabinet-level position is unacceptable,” Warner wrote. “As the acting Director of the CIA, it is in your power to order the declassification of relevant material or to hasten the process. I urge you to take immediate action to remedy these problems.”
Warner’s move has heightened fears among Haspel opponents that Warner is preparing to vote to confirm Haspel.
The classified memo was compiled by the minority staff on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Relying on classified records, it goes into detail on Haspel’s role in torture, the destruction of evidence, and her tenure more broadly, according to people briefed on its contents.
The memo draws from the results of an investigation by special prosecutor John Durham, who looked into CIA activity following 9/11 and ultimately chose not to bring charges.
People briefed on the contents of the memo say that it is not possible to read it and come away without serious doubts about whether Haspel ought to be confirmed.
Yasmine Taeb, senior policy counsel for the Center for Victims of Torture, said that it’s crucial for senators to read the classified memo before announcing their votes. “This nomination fight is not over,” she said. “There are several Republican offices that have expressed concerns over Haspel’s nomination. We hope that senators will read all the materials made available to them — not just documents provided by the CIA but also the memo prepared by the SSCI minority staff.”
Yet according to Senate sources, few senators have viewed the memo, and with the vote scheduled for Wednesday, crucial lawmakers have begun announcing their positions. Warner has yet to announce how he’ll vote, and opponents of Haspel worry the senator will side with the CIA and vote to confirm Haspel, despite a furious grassroots push.
Emily Phelps, a spokesperson for Indivisible, which has been rallying opponents to call the Capitol, said that constituents will soon be asking “whether or not their senators have reviewed all the documents that are available.”
Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., have both said that they will vote to confirm Haspel, while Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have announced their opposition.
For opponents of the use of torture, there is already ample public evidence that warrants a rejection of Haspel. The same is true for advocates of the rule of law. But a majority of senators are still undecided on the Haspel nomination, which makes the classified information available to them all the more important — and all the more important that they actually read it.
Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said, “I have never in my life wished that more classified information could be available to the public,” after reviewing classified documents about Haspel.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the few Republicans yet to commit to supporting Haspel, has called for the contents of the Durham report, an extensive report on which the classified memo is partly based, to be made available to senators.
Haspel herself, with her recent testimony, has given senators a reason to fact-check her. “There was an internal investigation of the issue conducted by one of my predecessors, Mr. Morell, who found no fault with my actions and that my decisions were consistent with my obligations as an agency officer,” Haspel said during her confirmation hearing last week.
Haspel is referring to former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who wrote a cover letter to the Durham report that resulted in no charges. The CIA declassified Morell’s memo, but not the underlying investigation, which leaves the public to guess at what’s underneath.
But Morell has left some hints that the exoneration was not a clean one. He later wrote in his memoir that Durham had declined to press charges, but added: “Durham concluded, however, that such legal authority had not existed and that Agency lawyers had erred in their legal judgment.” Haspel’s role in that illegal effort is laid out clearly in the documents available for senators to review.
Haspel knows what that investigation found, but in her testimony, she pointedly referenced Morell’s summary, rather than the investigation itself. In doing so, was she misleading the Senate?
The answer can be found in a classified memo that Senate leaders are taking pains to keep away from the eyes of senators. It used to be in the basement, but now it’s not even there.