While she told senators at her confirmation hearing this week that the C.I.A. should never resume the brutal interrogations, she maintained that officers should not be judged for their actions more than a decade ago.
“I’m not going to sit here, with the benefit of hindsight, and judge the very good people who made hard decisions, who were running the agency in very extraordinary circumstances,” she said.
Mr. McCain was instrumental in putting such interrogations to a halt. Teaming with Republican allies like Mr. Graham, Ms. Collins and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, along with Democrats, he added the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 to a defense-spending bill over the objections of the Bush administration, demanding that the C.I.A. adhere to to Army’s interrogation procedures.
With that law in place, Mr. Graham said he could look beyond Ms. Haspel’s past: “Ms. Haspel has rejected the interrogation policies of the past. She is fully committed to following the law that prevents future abuses. This law, among others, includes the Detainee Treatment Act, which I helped author.”
By and large, Ms. Haspel’s backers in the Senate spoke gently of Mr. McCain.
“His words always have a powerful impact, particularly given his experience in Vietnam,” Ms. Collins said.
Mr. McCain, who has not been at work in the Senate since December, has been entertaining a steady stream of visitors at his ranch as he undergoes physical therapy for the debilitating side effects of his cancer treatment. Mr. Graham said he spent Monday and Tuesday with Mr. McCain, and pronounced himself “pleasantly surprised” at the Arizona senator’s condition.
They watched an old movie — “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a 1962 Western about a senator — together, and Mr. McCain kept up a running (and R-rated) commentary, Mr. Graham said. They also spoke briefly about Ms. Haspel, Mr. Graham said, adding, “He knew where I was going to be.”
Noting that Ms. Haspel said the torture program would not resume, Mr. Graham added: “I would say this about John McCain: He won. He won the debate. The new C.I.A. director agrees with him.”