CBSN

Report: Gina Haspel offered to withdraw nomination to head CIA before confirmation hearing

Last Updated May 7, 2018 7:19 AM EDT

President Trump's pick to lead the CIA, Gina Hapsel, reportedly offered to withdraw her nomination after a White House meeting focusing on her past role in interrogation programs, according to the Washington Post. The Post, citing four senior U.S. officials, reports that Haspel had advised the White House she would withdraw to avoid a potentially harsh confirmation hearing, which is set for Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Officials told the Post she didn't want to risk damaging the reputation of the CIA and herself in the process.

One official, the Post writes, said that Haspel reportedly said that she didn't want to be "the next Ronny Jackson," referring to Mr. Trump's failed nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary who withdrew his nomination amid allegations of misconduct while serving in the White House medical unit.

However, CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports that a source close to the matter said that Haspel's nomination "is going forward." An administration official also told CBS News that her nomination remains on track. 

A CIA spokesperson said in a statement to CBS News, "Those who know the true Gina Haspel -- who worked with her, who served with her, who helped her confront terrorism, Russia and countless other threats to our nation -- they almost uniformly support her."

The statement added, "That is true for people who disagree about nearly everything else. There is a reason for that. When the American people finally have a chance to see the true Gina Haspel on Wednesday, they will understand why she is so admired and why she is and will be a great leader for this Agency."

Haspel is the first woman nominated to head the CIA, but that has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding her involvement with the agency's enhanced interrogation program implemented in the aftermath of 9/11 as well as her reported role in overseeing a "black site" in Thailand, where interrogations of high-level terrorist suspects were carried out in 2002.

The CIA has since declassified and sent to Congress an eight-page disciplinary review memorandum that cleared Haspel of any wrongdoing in the destruction of videotapes made of interrogations of al Qaeda detainees. The memo obtained by CBS News places responsibility for the destruction of 92 tapes on Jose Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the agency's Directorate of Operations, while noting Haspel drafted the cable authorizing the measure.

It was during a White House meeting on Friday that Haspel was reportedly grilled on her history with the interrogation program and signaled she would withdraw her nomination. Officials told the Post that White House aides including Marc Short and Sarah Huckabee Sanders met with Haspel at her CIA office for private discussions afterwards.

The White House has since voiced their confidence in Haspel with Sanders tweeting on Saturday that there was no one "more qualified to be the first woman to lead the CIA than 30+ year CIA veteran Gina Haspel." She also slammed Democrats who support women's empowerment but oppose Haspel's nomination as hypocrites.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah echoed Sanders in a statement on Sunday, "Acting Director Haspel is a highly qualified nominee who has dedicated over three decades of service to her country. Her nomination will not be derailed by partisan critics who side with the ACLU over the CIA on how to keep the American people safe."

On Monday, Mr. Trump himself lent his support to Haspel, tweeting that she's "come under fire because she was too tough on terrorists."

He added, "Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!"

Haspel has been doing damage control of her own. According to Michael Morell, former CIA deputy director and CBS News contributor, Haspel has told senators in private meetings that she would "never let the CIA restart an interrogation and detention program." She has said that she will abide by the legal framework governing interrogations detailed in the Army Field Manual.

Haspel is also promising to ensure that the CIA remains focused on its core mission of collection and analysis and that the agency abides by its values of "service, integrity and courage."

Speaking on Morell's "Intelligence Matters" podcast, former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden expressed his support for Haspel's nomination.

"We know some mistakes were made," Hayden said of the enhanced interrogation program, "but at its core, we thought the program met all the requirements the agency had to have to do those kinds of things."

Hayden added, "There is no way that an agency officer of Gina's character and experience will send CIA officers out there to do this again."

CBS News' Olivia Gazis contributed to this report.