In GOP, Doubts On Likely CIA Pick

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006

The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence panels raised serious concerns about Gen. Michael V. Hayden on the eve of his expected nomination today as CIA director, with Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) calling him "the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time."

Other Republicans and Democrats, appearing on Sunday talk shows, praised Hayden's credentials but said they, too, are troubled by President Bush's decision to place a military officer at the helm of a civilian intelligence agency. Aides expect Bush to name Hayden today as his choice to succeed Porter J. Goss, who was forced to step down last week. Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency and now deputy director of national intelligence, has defended Bush's domestic eavesdropping program since its disclosure in December.

The challenges to Hayden's expected nomination come when Bush is politically at his weakest and Republicans are distancing themselves from the White House in the hopes of retaining their grip on Congress in the midterm elections. The White House did not formally respond to the criticisms yesterday, but strategists said privately they are confident they can address Republican concerns and have Hayden confirmed.

"We respect their judgments, but strongly believe Mike Hayden will demonstrate why he is the right man for the job during this critical period for the agency," a senior White House official said by e-mail, on the condition of anonymity because Hayden has not been nominated yet. "Mr. Hayden has more than 20 years' experience in the intelligence business, and has proven to be an innovative and independent thinker."

White House officials also said they would not shy away from a fight with Democrats over what Bush has termed a "terrorist surveillance program," if that becomes the focus of Hayden's hearings. With the country essentially divided on the effort, which has allowed the NSA to scan the calls and e-mails of more than 5,000 Americans, the president has more support on that issue than most others.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has fought to obtain more information about the program, which he has said he believes is operating outside the law.

Although Hayden is considered to be one of the most popular intelligence briefers on the Hill, Specter has said he has been frustrated by the amount of information Hayden has shared with the committee. As a result, Specter said, confirmation hearings should center on the legality of the program that Hayden designed and ran in secret after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"There is no doubt there's an enormous threat from terrorism, but the president does not have a blank check," Specter said on "Fox News Sunday." "Now, with General Hayden up for confirmation, this will give us an opportunity to try to find out."

Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who heads the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he supports the NSA program and likes Hayden personally, but he did not embrace the expected nomination. "I'm not in a position to say that I am for General Hayden and will vote for him," said Roberts, whose committee will conduct Hayden's confirmation hearings.

That stance was in marked contrast to the overwhelming support Hayden had at his confirmation hearing to the national intelligence post in April 2005.

Roberts, who introduced Hayden at the time, began by saying that he had erred when describing him as "excellent." Roberts then said: "I have crossed that out and put 'outstanding.' "

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said the president "could not have made a finer appointment" than Hayden, and Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the only Democrat who questioned Hayden during the hearing, called him "a wonderful choice."

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