WASHINGTON – Majority Leader Bill Frist said he remained hopeful the Senate could take up the nomination of CIA director-nominee Michael Hayden before the Memorial Day recess, installing a veteran of intelligence controversies and four-star general atop the civilian spy agency.
But on Thursday evening, Frist had yet to reach an agreement with Democrats on how long to debate the new post for Hayden, currently the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
Hayden, 61, would be the first active-duty or retired military officer to run the CIA in 25 years.
At his confirmation hearing, Hayden sought to assure senators that he would be independent from the Pentagon, but said he would consider how his uniform affects his relationship with CIA personnel. If it were to get in the way, he said, "I'll make the right decision."
Hayden became a lightening rod for the debate about the Bush administration's no-warrant surveillance program, which monitors domestic communications — without court approval — when one party is overseas and terrorism is suspected. Some Democrats and civil-liberties advocates argue the monitoring was illegal.
As head of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005, Hayden oversaw the groundbreaking operations, but his defenders have said repeatedly that he was relying on the advice of top government lawyers.
The White House hurried Hayden's nomination through in only 17 days, in part by heeding Congress' five-month-old requests for more information on the classified operations.
But President Bush's selection of Hayden exposed fissures among Republicans who say the administration is making decisions without consulting Congress.
"That's the way they decided to do business," House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., said in an interview Thursday. "The problem is there are major changes going on in the intelligence community, and the executive branch is doing it on their own."
Hoekstra said a military official shouldn't be in charge of the CIA, but he planned to look ahead and learn more about Hayden's vision for the agency. Hoekstra also said he would use every tool available to Congress — including the power of the purse — to ensure he has a voice in the intelligence reforms.
Hoekstra is among Republicans close to outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss who are angry that the Bush administration dismissed him suddenly from the post. "It was a very ungracious exit for a very gracious man," Hoekstra said of Goss, the former House Intelligence Committee chairman who had a 40-year career in government.
At his confirmation hearing, Hayden said he wants to encourage the CIA's clandestine service to take more risks, expand how the CIA shares information with allied intelligence services and encourage the CIA's analysts to make hard-edge assessments.
Hayden said he wants the CIA out of the news — "as source or subject" — but also wants to win back public confidence in America's best-known spy agency.