By Charles Babington and Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The White House, facing a potentially tough Senate grilling of its choice to head the CIA, agreed yesterday to expand the number of lawmakers who will receive classified briefings on the administration's anti-terrorism efforts that include warrantless wiretaps of domestic phone calls and e-mails.
The administration previously had insisted on briefing only a small fraction of Congress's 535 members, saying larger gatherings were likely to result in leaks of secret information. But Democrats and some Republicans had objected, and Gen. Michael V. Hayden -- President Bush's nominee to be CIA director -- faced the awkward prospect of a confirmation hearing tomorrow in which he could tell some Senate intelligence committee members, but not others, some details of the administration's surveillance programs.
Yesterday the White House agreed to brief all 21 members of the House intelligence committee and all 16 of the Senate panel's members. The Senate committee briefing will be today, placing the panel's nine Republicans and seven Democrats on equal footing when they question Hayden in open and then closed confirmation hearings tomorrow. The House, which has no role in the confirmation process, will receive its committee briefing later.
Hayden headed the National Security Agency when it began the warrantless wiretaps and, according to published reports, massive collection of Americans' phone records after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Senate committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said in a statement yesterday that he, "in negotiations with the White House, insisted on briefing every member of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the President's Terrorist Surveillance Program." House intelligence committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said that he "personally called senior White House officials this past weekend requesting the full committee be briefed."
White House spokeswoman Dana M. Perino said the two chairmen "felt we would benefit from briefing the entire committees, so we accepted and welcomed their judgment."
In early March, in the White House situation room, Hayden and Vice President Cheney briefed subcommittees of the two panels on the surveillance programs. According to congressional sources, nearly half the discussion focused on why the two men refused to brief the rest of the committees.
Some in Congress, however, saw yesterday's announcement as a possible ploy to limit discussion of the surveillance program and criticism of the administration's handling of it during Hayden's hearing tomorrow. With all Senate committee members briefed on some aspects of the program, they can no longer discuss it in open hearings because it is classified.