Critics call CIA nomination ‘power play’ by military

WASHINGTON (AP) ?” President Bush’s CIA nominee, Gen. Michael Hayden, canvassed Capitol Hill on Tuesday addressing Republican and Democratic concerns about a military officer running the civilian agency and about his close ties to the warrantless surveillance program.

In a break with the White House, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said he was surprised by the nomination and concerned about Hayden’s background.

“I don’t think a military guy should be head of CIA, frankly,” Hastert said. “I don’t know anything about him.”

During the 36 hours since Hayden’s nomination was announced, the White House said the general had called more than 25 members of Congress and was meeting with others this week.

Several Republicans and a greater number of Democrats have expressed discomfort with Bush’s decision to choose a military man to run the CIA. House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., an Intelligence Committee member, are among the Republicans who have voiced doubts.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld rejected suggestions that the Defense Department was making a “power play” to dominate the spy community, calling talk of bureaucratic turf fights between civilian intelligence agencies and military leaders “theoretical conspiracies.”

“He’s an intelligence professional,” Rumsfeld said, expressing confidence in Hayden. “He’s a person who has had assignment after assignment after assignment in the intelligence business. And, clearly, that is what his career has been. And he’s been very good at it.”

CIA Director Porter Goss announced his resignation Friday, offering little explanation. Officials have said he had conflicts with National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and Hayden.

Hastert said Negroponte came by his office last week and did not mention any problems with Goss, a former House member. “It looks like a power grab by Mr. Negroponte,” Hastert said at an event in Aurora, Ill., in his home district Monday. Asked if that meant he opposes the nomination, the speaker said, “I don’t oppose him, I don’t know anything about him.”

Hayden’s calls and meetings were seen as an attempt to smooth relations with Goss’s former colleagues in Congress, where the former House Intelligence Committee chairman still has friends. Because of those ties, the White House expected that Hayden or any nominee could run into resistance from the House.

Attention now focuses on the Senate and particularly its Intelligence Committee, which will address the Senate confirmation first. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called him “the ideal man for the job.”

Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he hopes to hold Hayden’s confirmation hearings as soon as Tuesday and he believes “the dust is settling” on Hayden’s selection.

“He probably has as much or more expertise in regards to intelligence as anyone,” Roberts said. “He is highly professional. I think that trumps any concerns that others may have.”

Two key Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the panel’s top Democrat; and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin have withheld judgment on Hayden.

Levin and Rockefeller have been outspoken in their concerns about the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program, which Bush has credited Hayden with designing as head of the National Security Agency from 1999 until last year.

Roberts welcomed a debate on the surveillance program. “I am not sure that is a bad thing, for people to understand that better,” he said. “There has been a cascade of misinformation about it.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said Hayden’s hearing should show that he was relying on the advice of top government lawyers at the White House, Justice Department and elsewhere, when he helped devise the program. “He is not a lawyer,” Warner said, with Hayden at his side.

The White House began reaching out to Congress about Hayden’s selection over the weekend, rather than giving lawmakers a few minutes’ notice before Bush’s Oval Office announcement on Monday, as would be typical.

Walking the halls of Congress, Hayden had several advisers in tow, including Michael Allen, the legislative affairs adviser on the White House’s National Security Council. Hayden said the sessions with lawmakers have “been good – very useful.”

As is often the case with presidential nominees, he offered few specifics, but said lawmakers have raised a number of subjects, including whether he should retire from the Air Force. He has served in active duty for 37 years, rising to the rank of four-star general last year.

Hayden wouldn’t say if he was considering it. “I don’t want to get that far ahead. Let me listen to folks.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a committee member, said Hayden should retire from the military to “take care of that issue.” Feinstein wouldn’t say whether she was leaning toward supporting him, and called his part in the eavesdropping program “a very major concern.”

Roberts said any parliamentary maneuver to block Hayden’s nomination would amount to “putting a hold on our national security interests.”