Trump’s CIA nominee insists she would not allow torture

Gina Haspel faces Senate committee as new controversy emerges over Cohen payments

CIA director nominee and acting CIA director Gina Haspel is sworn in to testify at her Senate intelligence committee confirmation hearing in Washington. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Reuters

CIA director nominee and acting CIA director Gina Haspel is sworn in to testify at her Senate intelligence committee confirmation hearing in Washington. Photograph: Aaron P Bernstein/Reuters


US president Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Central Intelligence Agency has told a Senate committee she would not restart a controversial CIA interrogation programme, as senators questioned her on her past involvement in a so-called black site in Thailand in 2002.

Under questioning from members of the Senate intelligence committee, Gina Haspel, a CIA veteran, also suggested she would be prepared to defy the US president if required.

“I would not allow the CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it,” she told the committee. “I believe the CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values.”

Ms Haspel, who was later questioned by a closed session of the committee, must face a full Senate vote amid concerns about her role in a CIA interrogation programme in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Meanwhile, the controversy over Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has deepened, following allegations that the company used to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 (€110,000) on behalf of the president was also used to funnel millions of dollars from other sources.

Several media outlets reported that more than $4 million was paid into the Delaware-registered company, including money from a company connected to a Russian oligarch. The reports followed an initial allegation by Ms Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti.

Transactions totalling $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants, the company established by Mr Cohen a month before the 2016 presidential campaign, it is alleged. Of this $4.4 million, about $500,000 came from Columbus Nova, a New York investment fund whose biggest client is Viktor Vekselberg, a well-known Russian oligarch and friend of Vladimir Putin.

The payments were made after November 2016 when Mr Trump won the presidential election.

It has been reported that Mr Vekselberg was stopped and questioned by investigators as part of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election at a New York airport earlier this year.

Sanctions list

Mr Vekselberg was one of a number of Russians who were put on a US sanctions list last month by the US treasury. He attended Mr Trump’s inauguration in Washington last year, and was also present at a dinner in Moscow in 2015 attended by the president’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

The other payments were made by pharmaceutical giant Novartis, Korea Aerospace Industries and telecoms operator AT&T.

The AT&T payment has come in for particular scrutiny because the US department of justice in November blocked the proposed $85 billion takeover by AT&T of Time Warner. The company is awaiting a court decision on the proposed merger. Time Warner is the parent company of CNN, the news channel against which Mr Trump has railed.  

In a statement, AT&T confirmed it had paid Mr Cohen in 2017 for “insights into understanding the new administration”.

Novartis was forced to confirm that it had paid Mr Cohen $1.2 million for his services – not $400,000, as had originally been alleged by Mr Avenatti. The company also confirmed it had been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about the payments.

In a statement, Columbus Nova said the company was an American firm and that “neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else, other than Columbus Nova’s owners, were involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement”. The chief executive of Columbus Nova is Andrew Intrater, a cousin of Mr Vekselberg.