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CIA pick clinches nod with pledge: She’d tell Trump ‘no’ on torture

Gina Haspel prepares to testify before the Senate

Gina Haspel prepares to testify before the Senate intelligence committee before her confirmation hearing on May 9. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

Not going back there

It didn’t bother President Donald Trump in the least that his nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, ran a secret prison where terror suspects were tortured in one of her past assignments.

As a candidate, he vowed: “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” He backed off after his election, persuaded there are better ways to extract information, but mocked Haspel’s opponents for saying “she was too tough on terrorists.”

Haspel appeared to have clinched Senate confirmation Wednesday after declaring the “enhanced interrogation” program was a bad idea that “ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world” and should never be brought back, even if Trump changes his mind.

A key Democrat, intelligence committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia, said he would vote for her because “I believe she is someone who can and will stand up to the president if ordered to do something illegal or immoral — like a return to torture.”

Soon after, two other Democrats — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Bill Nelson of Florida — said they also would back Haspel.

That brings her total Democratic support to five, more than enough to make up for opposition from Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky. Sen. John McCain of Arizona also opposes Haspel, but is not expected in Washington for a vote expected by the end of the week.

Kim’s zero-summit game

Trump can scarcely contain his excitement over the planned North Korea summit. Has Kim Jong Un noticed?

North Korea on Wednesday canceled a high-level meeting with South Korea and threatened to scrap the Kim-Trump summit over U.S.-South Korean military exercises that Pyongyang has long claimed are invasion rehearsals.

“The United States must carefully contemplate the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit amid the provocative military ruckus that it’s causing with South Korean authorities,” said the official Korean Central News Agency.

The State Department said Kim previously indicated the exercises weren’t going to be a problem. “We will continue to go ahead and plan the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert.

And Kim seemed to move the goalposts further, railing against being forced into "unilateral nuclear abandonment."

Janison: Now versus then

Trump is showing a lot of wiggle in his walkbacks, just like many politicians do, even if he’s said he’s not one of them.

Two years ago, asked who was to blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Trump said, “Let me be sort of a neutral guy.” Now, as the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and the administration’s response to the Gaza bloodshed both show, he’s all in with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump called China’s unfair trade practices “the greatest theft in the history of the world.” Now, he wants to spare a Chinese telecom company that violated U.S. trade sanctions from further punishment. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Apology excepted

Republican senators had a lot to say in the past few days about a White House staffer’s “he’s dying anyway” snark about McCain. Many called for a public apology. But they had nothing to say about it to Trump when they met with him on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

“That’s not what we do in those meetings,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) The senators also didn’t get to raise concerns about Trump’s recent trade moves, they said, because Trump did most of the talking during the session, leaving little time for questions.

The long reach of Mueller

A federal judge in Washington ruled special counsel Robert Mueller did not exceed his authority in prosecuting Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s decision Tuesday allows one of two criminal cases against Manafort — for charges of money-laundering conspiracy, false statements and acting as an unregistered foreign agent — to proceed.

Manafort has filed a similar motion to dismiss charges Mueller filed in Virginia of bank fraud and tax evasion. A federal judge there has yet to rule on it.

What else is happening

  • U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), a fawning Trump fan, won the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic Sen. Bob Casey at the polls in November. The president gushed in response.
  • Trump paid tribute Tuesday to slain NYPD Det. Miosotis Familia, inviting her family and patrol partner to join him on stage at a ceremony honoring fallen law enforcement officers, Newsday’s Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports.
  • Former FBI Director James Comey told the Long Island Association that Trump is unethical and that the “relentless attacks” on federal law enforcement institutions threaten to make the country less safe by sowing distrust in them. See David M. Schwartz’s story for Newsday.
  • Trump nominated Gordon Hartogensis, who is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s brother-in-law, to lead the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
  • Trump made another trip by helicopter to visit his wife, Melania, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where she is recovering after a kidney procedure. He said she is “doing really well.”
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ended a 16-month hiring freeze at the State Department. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, had kept the freeze in place even after the White House gave a green light to lift it more than a year ago.
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made her first visit to a New York City school since taking office, touring an Orthodox Jewish school for girls on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She plans to see a boys’ yeshiva on Wednesday. Not on her itinerary: public schools.

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