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GOP lawmakers defend CIA Director Gina Haspel as Trump weighs firing her

Several GOP lawmakers have publicly defended CIA Director Gina Haspel in recent days as it has become increasingly clear that President Donald Trump is considering firing her as part of his post-election government purge.

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Zachary Cohen, Kaitlan Collins
Vivian Salama, CNN
CNN — Several GOP lawmakers have publicly defended CIA Director Gina Haspel in recent days as it has become increasingly clear that President Donald Trump is considering firing her as part of his post-election government purge.

But outside of Capitol Hill, there are conflicting views about whether Trump should follow through with his threat to oust Haspel, and competing factions within the administration are lobbying the President accordingly.

Some of the President's top advisers, including national security adviser Robert O'Brien, have urged him to hold off on firing the CIA director, siding with a host of congressional Republicans who have publicly voiced support for Haspel.

But at the same time, several people inside the White House are pushing for her removal, multiple sources told CNN on Thursday, encouraging Trump to fire her as he did Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier this week.

Some Trump advisers believe Haspel has been "insubordinate" to both the President and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, arguing she routinely circumvents the chain of command to further her own agenda and that of the CIA, one source familiar with the situation told CNN.

A source familiar with internal discussions about Haspel's job status told CNN that some officials have taken issue with her for, at times, going to Capitol Hill and briefing members on internal executive branch discussions before the President or Ratcliffe had come to a final decision.

"She did this without asking other principals involved what they were thinking. ... It was an attempt to pressure the White House towards a certain outcome that she wanted," the source said.

Internal fight over declassifying Russia documents

CNN previously reported that Trump and several of his allies have also become increasingly frustrated with Haspel for pushing back on the declassification of sensitive documents related to the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election -- at times clashing with Ratcliffe and other influential advisers who have advocated their release.

The President believes the documents in question will undermine the intelligence community's unanimous finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 race to help him win -- exposing so-called "deep state" plots against his campaign and transition during the Obama administration, according to multiple current and former officials.

But CIA and National Security Agency career officials, including Haspel, have strenuously objected to releasing certain information from the Russia interference assessment, arguing that it would seriously damage sources and methods in a way that the intelligence community doesn't believe can be easily repaired.

Both agencies have also cited concerns about cherry-picking information to release and the politicization of their work as they fight against Ratcliffe's recent efforts to satisfy Trump's promises to declassify thousands of pages of documents.

The standoff has led Trump and some in his orbit to blame Haspel for delaying the release of these documents despite the fact that the President and Ratcliffe have the authority to declassify additional intelligence at their own discretion.

At the end of the day, if Trump wanted these documents declassified, he could do it himself, but a source with firsthand knowledge of the situation told CNN the President and Ratcliffe want it on Haspel's head "for political reasons."

Additionally, Haspel's resistance to declassifying these documents is indicative of her broader tendency to operate outside of proper channels, at times undermining Ratcliffe and other top principals in the process, the source claimed.

"There are other officials at senior levels of the intelligence community who have equity in the relevant documents but you never hear about their objections because those are internal discussions. Haspel is the only one who subverts the chain of command," the source added.

"Everyone involved wants what's best for national security, but how is it good for national security for a president to be expected to keep a CIA director that he doesn't trust and have faith in? The relationship with the president is the entire basis of a CIA director's effectiveness and that has clearly broken down," they added.

A senior administration official echoed that point, telling CNN that trust between the White House and the CIA has "completely broken down."

Trip to Capitol Hill irks Trump allies

Haspel's trip to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where she met with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, only reinforced that view, according to multiple sources.

Some allies of the President and administration officials viewed the move as an attempt by Haspel to shape the narrative around her potential firing by cloaking herself in public support from Republican lawmakers.

"She was trying to box the President in, bully him into keeping her around, by running to the Hill," the source familiar with internal discussion about the matter told CNN.

The senior administration official added that they believed Haspel was trying to get Congress to defend her so Trump wouldn't fire her, which "didn't help her case."

But while multiple sources tell CNN they expect the President to eventually fire Haspel, they have also emphasized that nothing is set in stone until Trump makes an announcement, which could come in a tweet.

Whether Haspel should be let go has been a subject of multiple discussions inside the White House over the last 48 hours but while Trump has made clear his desire to get rid of her, it remains to be seen if he will follow through.

The President can often be unpredictable when it comes to the timing of personnel moves, the source familiar with conversations about Haspel's possible firing told CNN, noting that some administration officials were caught off guard by Trump's tweet firing Esper earlier this week despite the fact that it was widely expected to happen at some point.

As such, Haspel's future remains in limbo for the time being, though a source close to the President told CNN on Thursday that she is on "thin ice," as has been the case for months.

In addition to the public displays of support for Haspel from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in recent days, a Republican senator said he has privately urged the White House not to fire her.

This GOP lawmaker noted that Haspel has a deep reservoir of support among Republican senators and told CNN the White House has suggested she is safe.

That said, it is unclear what Trump will do as he refuses to accept his election loss to Joe Biden and goes after those he perceives as disloyal to him.

In addition to O'Brien, another person inside these West Wing discussions who has defended Haspel is White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who has tried to talk the President out of firing her, according to another senior administration official.

The source noted that it remains to be seen whether efforts to talk the President down from firing Haspel will be successful, saying that at the end of the day, the President will do whatever he wants.

FBI leadership is closely watching how the Haspel situation plays out, a senior law enforcement official told CNN, as some at FBI headquarters believe the firing of Haspel would also likely lead to the termination of FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The source said some senior FBI officials believe Trump is unhappy with Haspel and Wray for the same reason: an unwillingness to use their agencies to do his political bidding.

"We're not worried right now, but if Haspel goes, then we'll worry," the source said.

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