Rarely does a CNN panelist come out swinging in defense of a Trump administration nominee while going after a Democratic Party senator.
But on Wednesday, CNN's Philip Mudd, who like most on-air personalities at the network has been harshly critical of the Trump administration and its officials, reacted strongly to harsh questions California Democrat Kamala Harris directed at Trump CIA nominee Gina Haspel.
Mudd made an important point, virtually unmentioned elsewhere in the media, that many of the same senators who are criticizing the interrogation methods used in the years after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks fully understood them at the time, and did not object to their use.
Though Harris didn't enter the Senate until 2017, her arrogant line of questioning reflected an attempt to place the entire blame for now-forbidden interrogation techniques that their superiors had approved on those, including Haspel, who carried them out — effectively casting Haspel as some kind of rogue operative.
In Harris's immediately preceding interview with The Lead host Jake Tapper, the Senator said that she will vote against Haspel's nomination, with a particularly lame justification:
The senator said she is concerned that Haspel "is not the best signal to the workforce of that agency, to the American people or to our neighbors around the globe."
That set Mudd off in the subsequent panel discussion:
PHILIP MUDD: She spoke about American values and she spoke about rule of law. I appreciate what she votes on. She can vote however she wants.
I don’t appreciate the collective amnesia. Let’s go dirty and let's go ugly. I was among the CIA officers 15 years ago who spoke with the Congress in detail about the techniques we used. I spoke about the techniques that were authorized by the Department of Justice. I spoke to Republicans and Democrats. They were either silent or supportive.
We talked to the people would represent rule of law. I can’t help that they are Republicans. They were voted on by the American people when they voted for a Republican president. They are the highest lawyers in the land, including the Attorney General. They told us this was not torture, that it complied with the Constitution, and that it complied with U.S. law.
You can vote against Gina Haspel, but don’t give me the collective amnesia about how it's on CIA. I want to talk to the senators who told us that they represented American values, and conveniently in 2002 and 2003 disrepresented American values. Now that we don’t face the same threat and that we have different senators, it’s okay to attack one of my former colleagues.
I am pissed off. This is collective amnesia. We didn’t do it. America did it. Get over it.
Despite his righteous indignation, Mudd's contention that "we don't face the same threat," which in context conveys his belief that the threats of domestic terror attacks in the U.S. and against U.S. interests around the world have greatly diminished, is debatable.
Mudd's stridency may have taken host Jake Tapper and other CNN panelists by surprise. Tapper felt it necessary to remind viewers that Harris wasn't a senator in 2002, as if that somehow absolves her incivility.
Then, as seen here, John Avlon recognized Mudd's points, and went on to observe that there is bipartisan agreement among current and former national security officials that Haspel is qualified:
... But for me it also is significant that you have so many Obama-era CIA chiefs — Leon Panetta, (John) Brennan, (Michael) Morrell — who are saying she's eminently qualified.
... You can say that her involvement in that (interrogation techniques) was troubling, distasteful, (and) you can press her on the points. But I don't think you can have a debate about whether she's qualified. She is.
Tapper then went back to Mudd:
Again, here's the transcript:
PHILIP MUDD: No, I think John is right. Let’s make sure we understand the two different questions.
America is in a different place, both in terms of its ability to reflect on what we started to do 16 years ago when we first captured the first major Al Qaeda prisoner in the spring of 2002, and what America thinks today. (That's) perfectly appropriate and the Congress has passed different laws.
It's also appropriate to say that people including Kamala Harris are uncomfortable with where America was 16 years ago. But to go back and say this person did something that reflected where the American psyche was, and therefore I will judge her today and pretend that somehow CIA in isolation didn’t represent American values, I reject that. John is right, I do not agree with Senator Harris in her characterization of history.
Mudd's breezy "America is in a different place" assumption mindset was also reflected in a CNN column he wrote two years ago advocating that we shouldn't "Use 'Terrorism' to Describe Non-Directed Attacks."
As I noted at the time, the "different phenomenon" Mudd recognized, namely that radical Islam-inspired attackers often act on their own without direct orders from one of the major terrorist groups places America in an arguably more dangerous position than it was immediately after 9/11. That's because, unlike 15 years ago, non-directed terrorists' destructive plans are harder to detect.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.