U.S. Sen. Rand Paul insisted Friday he's sticking with his opposition to President Donald Trump's nomination to lead the CIA, saying her testimony to fellow senators didn't erase concerns about her role with some of the spy agency's operations after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The Kentucky Republican said he will vote against Gina Haspel to lead the CIA because he doesn't want to "reward somebody who participated in torture."
Haspel faced grilling this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee about her role overseeing some CIA operations after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Her nomination is contentious because she was chief of a covert detention site in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded. Haspel told senators this week that she doesn't believe torture works as an interrogation technique.
The comments didn't change Paul's mind about her nomination to run the CIA. Haspel — a 33-year veteran of the agency — faces what will likely be a close confirmation vote in the full Senate.
"I can't vote for her," Paul told reporters Friday after a Louisville event to promote business development. "I think that people, after the fact when they're struggling to try to get a nomination, will say a lot of things. She struggled to say, though, whether it was immoral, even today. To my mind, torturing people is immoral and something we shouldn't do."
Asked if calls from Trump would change his mind about Haspel, Paul replied: "No."
During another high-profile confirmation fight, Trump's last-minute overture to Paul helped pave the way for Mike Pompeo to win his job as secretary of state. Paul had raised objections to Pompeo, but after conversations with Trump, including a chat moments before a crucial April vote, the Kentuckian backed the nominee as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly recommended him. Pompeo later won Senate confirmation.
At the time, Paul explained he received reassurances that Pompeo agrees with the president that the Iraq war was a "mistake" and that it is time for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan.
During his speech Friday at the business event, Paul responded to his critics on the CIA issue who point to what happened on Sept. 11 and say the U.S. needs to go after terrorists.
"Well here's the thing, we've got to know if we're killing the right people," the senator said. "That's why we have presumption of innocence. You talk about something great in our country, it's the presumption of innocence."
Kentucky's Republican senators are divided on the Haspel nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has praised her long CIA career spanning both the Cold War and the war against terrorism. McConnell, who sets the Senate's agenda, has said he looks forward to a full Senate vote soon to confirm her.
"Her resume could hardly be better tailored for the specific challenges that our nation faces at this very moment," he said in a recent Senate speech. "As CIA director, Gina Haspel would help defend the homeland from terrorists and help secure America's position on the world stage."