WASHINGTON – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed President Donald Trump’s pick to be the CIA’s top lawyer.
The bipartisan vote for Courtney Simmons Elwood, a former Supreme Court clerk and lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration, was 67-33.
During her confirmation hearing in April, Elwood was questioned about the CIA’s former program to harshly interrogate terror suspects. She reassured lawmakers who worry Trump will want to resurrect the program that doing so would take a change in U.S. law.
She also faced questions about surveillance programs, the use of contractors and the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Elwood has pledged to give the committee all the materials it needs for that investigation — as consistent with the law.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., spoke in Elwood’s defense during brief Senate debate on Tuesday.
“The general counsel of the CIA will help Director (Mike) Pompeo navigate the many twists and turns of the thorny legal terrain as our intelligence community defends our country against a wide range of threats: terrorism; cyberwarfare; and good, old-fashioned espionage,” Cotton said. “We need people of the highest caliber serving at our national-security agencies. And there is broad agreement that Courtney Elwood fits the bill.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., had urged his colleagues to vote against the nomination. He pointed out that during her confirmation hearing, Elwood said she had read the 500-page unclassified summary of the Senate report on the CIA interrogation program. But she said it was not sufficient for her to conclude whether the CIA’s interrogation techniques violated the law.
Elwood pledged to read the entire classified report, but the CIA has returned its copy of the full report to the committee at the behest of Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.
“This nominee told members of our committee that she had not yet studied whether the CIA’s torture techniques were legal,” Wyden said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. “She told us that she would read the report and now the report is gone.”