AP NEWS

McCaskill defends CIA vote, says reasons are classified

May 20, 2018
File-This May 15, 2018, file photo shows ranking Member Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asking a question about separation of children from their parents at the border, of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testifies to the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. McCaskill says that classified discussions she can’t share publicly persuaded her to vote against the new CIA director. McCaskill is one of the few Democrats facing difficult re-elections to oppose President Donald Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel. She was confirmed Thursday, may 17, 2018, after a debate about her role in the CIA’s torture program. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri on Saturday defended her vote against President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director but said the specific reasons were classified.

McCaskill was one of the few Democrats facing a difficult re-election this fall to oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel, who was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday after a heated debate about her role in the CIA’s torture program.

The Missouri Democrat told reporters at a Kansas City campaign event that her vote was influenced by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who had been tortured as a prisoner of war and also opposed Haspel’s confirmation. But she said the most important reason for her decision came during a classified discussion with Haspel.

“I cross-examined her on the classified material. And I was very uncomfortable with her answers,” McCaskill said. “I wish I could explain to all my constituents the details of all that, but the law will not allow me to do so. I can tell you this, if everyone in Missouri read and listened to her answers to the questions I asked, I believe that a vast majority of Missourians would have voted the same way I did.”

Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas seized on McCaskill’s vote during a conference call arranged by the campaign of her Republican opponent, state Attorney General Josh Hawley.

McCaskill “proved once again that she is so liberal and so reflexively opposed to the president that she cannot represent Missouri in the Senate,” Cotton charged. “She put partisan politics over national security.”

McCaskill represents a state that has trended more Republican in recent years. Trump won Missouri by nearly 19 percentage points in 2016.

She sided with the majority of Democrats on Thursday to oppose Haspel’s nomination. A handful of red-state Democrats up for re-election in November voted to confirm her, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Acknowledging the Republican shift in her state, McCaskill said Missouri voters would need “proof of independence” to support her re-election bid.

She noted that she supported Trump’s pick of Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state, adding that she voted with her party only about half the time.