President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he will nominate Gina Haspel to replace Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a move that could resurface concerns about the longtime intelligence official's stance on torture.
Haspel, if confirmed by the Senate, would become the first woman to lead the CIA, a milestone Trump touted in announcing his plans.
"Gina by the way who I know very well, who I've worked with very closely will be the first woman director of the CIA," Trump told reporters gathered outside the White House. "She's an outstanding person who also I have gotten to know very well."
The remarks followed a tweet in which Trump announced that Haspel would replace Pompeo at the CIA, while the intelligence chief would take over for Tillerson at the State Department.
"I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency," Haspel said in a statement Tuesday. "If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office," Haspel said in a statement Tuesday.
Haspel, who served as Pompeo's No. 2 at the CIA, first joined the agency in 1985. During her tenure she controversially ran a “black site” prison in Thailand where terrorism suspects reportedly were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics, including the use of waterboarding.
Her appointment to the position of deputy director of the CIA was met with opposition by some lawmakers, who expressed concern over her record on torture and human rights.
"Her background makes her unsuitable for the position," Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) wrote in a letter sent to Trump when he tapped Haspel for the role last February.
Former CIA Director John Brennan, who tapped Haspel to serve as deputy director of operations in 2013, praised her "wealth of experience" in responding to news of the selection on Tuesday, while acknowledging her role in carrying out controversial intelligence gathering practices.
"She was involved in a very, very controversial program and I know that the Senate confirmation process will look at that very closely, but Gina Haspel has a lot of integrity," Brennan told MSNBC. "She has tried to carry out her duties at the CIA to the best of her ability even when the CIA was asked to do some very difficult things in very challenging times."
George Little, a former CIA and Pentagon spokesman in the Obama administration, alluded to the brewing confirmation battle while praising Haspel's record of service.
“She’s a true intelligence professional and widely respected inside the CIA," Little told POLITICO. "Her immediate challenge is to prepare for a series of very tough questions at her confirmation hearing."
Pompeo voiced support for Trump's decision to tap Haspel to replace him atop the CIA in a statement released Tuesday.
"I am proud of the work we have done on behalf of America and know that the Agency will continue to thrive under the leadership of Gina Haspel," Pompeo said.
Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.