WASHINGTON – The fate of President George W. Bush's CIA nominee could hinge on how he justifies domestic eavesdropping programs that some lawmakers contend are illegal and started without congressional approval.
Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden should expect sharp questioning about programs he oversaw while directing the National Security Agency as the Senate Intelligence Committee begins hearings Thursday.
"There's no question that his confirmation is going to depend upon the answers he gives regarding activities of NSA," one committee member, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel said Sunday.
Asked if Hayden's nomination to succeed Porter Goss was in trouble, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter said, "I would say that there are a lot of questions which General Hayden has to answer. He's a first-class professional, but he has been in charge of a program where we need a lot more information."
Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, does not serve on the Intelligence Committee, but he wants to ask representatives of telephone companies that cooperated with the NSA to testify before his panel.
A secret NSA program, disclosed last week, kept records of millions of domestic phone calls made by ordinary Americans as part of a growing database. The agency also has allowed eavesdropping on phone calls to and from the United States when the calls involve al-Qaida and its operatives.
"There has been no meaningful congressional oversight on these programs," Specter said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Hagel, who met with Hayden on Friday, has expressed "absolute confidence" in the general and said the hearings should provide the facts on the monitoring programs.
"The American people need to be assured that their government is, in fact, following the law, not just protecting the security interests of our country, but also the constitutional rights of individual Americans," Hagel told ABC's "This Week."
"We can do both. We always have done both," he said.
White House officials have declined to confirm how the NSA programs operate and how they aid in the fight against terrorism. Bush and others have stressed that they believe the programs are constitutional and have safeguards for privacy.
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said Hayden has answered questions in private meetings with members of Congress and in public.
Asked if Hayden would provide to the appropriate lawmakers more information than he has in public, Hadley responded, "He already has."
Specter and Democratic Rep. Jane Harman said the White House has not followed the law because it has not briefed all members of the Senate and House intelligence committees.
"I think the administration is breaking the law. Its legal rationale that it offers, I think, is extremely shaky," said Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House committee.
"This is a lawless White House, out of control with respect to a program like this. Sure, we all want to catch terrorists, but I am against an effort to have the executive branch monitor itself," Harman said.
Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said on CNN's "Late Edition" that he wants to know from Hayden "how does he justify the illegal spying upon millions of millions of ordinary Americans?"