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May 6, 2006
Be Careful What You Wish For

My friend John Hinderaker at Power Line feels that a confirmation-hearing spectacle for General Michael Hayden to succeed Porter Goss as CIA director would provide a boon for Republicans. He relishes the thought of Democrats attacking Hayden on the NSA surveillance program:

To all of this I say: great! Hardly anything would give the Republican faithful a bigger boost than the spectacle of Senate Democrats attacking an Air Force general for trying to protect America against terrorism. Please, Democrats, please don't deny us this opportunity. And could we possibly schedule the hearing closer to November?

I hope he's correct, if Hayden actually gets the nod. However, given the nature of Goss' departure and the hostility the NSA program has created among members of both parties in Congress, I suspect that any Hayden hearing will rapidly become a debacle. All one has to do is to review the committee that will likely conduct the hearings to see where the problem lies: Russ Feingold.

Feingold got a lot of press and developed quite a bit of support earlier this year when he proposed a censure on George Bush for his approval of the NSA terrorist surveillance program. That effort has stalled, mostly because his fellow Democrats don't want to tip their hand about their intentions for the next session of Congress if they can wrest control of the House from the GOP. Many of them want to initiate impeachment hearings, but the leadership wants to keep it quiet in order to avoid energizing the Republican base in November.

When given an opportunity to hold nationally-televised hearings with the architect of this program, however, Feingold will not miss the opportunity to dig up every bit of information he can find that will help his cause. Feingold, along with Carl Levin and perhaps Ron Wyden, will force the hearing to serve as a declassified briefing on the NSA program, hammering on Hayden to reveal as much about the surveillance as he can. Feingold and his allies will transform themselves into a cross-examination board, interrogating a suspect in what they see as a criminal conspiracy. It will go on for days, and any inconsistencies will not only get trumpeted by Feingold but magnified by the waiting press, who will cover this spectacle with relish.

Can Hayden stand up to this? Of course, but Hayden isn't the target. John talks about attacking an Air Force general with decades of service to his country, but Hayden won't be the target at all. Feingold and his allies will target George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice -- especially Rice, as she could possibly be on the Republican ticket in 2008. Hayden will merely provide the conduit and the excuse to start the Democrats on their campaign for impeachment.

Feingold knows that he has little chance to win the Democratic nomination as things stand now. That's why these hearings will give Feingold a golden opportunity to make himself the Democratic standardbearer and the champion of more than just the fringe Left that supports him at the moment. And given the hostility that Congress has already shown towards this program, all Feingold will need to accomplish is to find any kind of inconsistency or questionable assertion regarding the program and its achievements to quickly get support among his peers.

This nomination could start a snowball effect that the Bush administration may find difficult to stop. If Hayden is their choice, they'd better be sure of their Congressional support before the hearings begin, because the gloves will really come off in those chambers -- and Feingold will be going for the knockout punch he needs for 2008.

UPDATE: Time Magazine has this quote:

President George W. Bush stunned Washington on Friday by accepting the resignation of CIA Director Porter J. Goss, and Republican sources told TIME that the White House plans to name his replacement on Monday: Air Force General Michael V. Hayden, who as Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence has been a visible and aggressive defender of the administration's controversial eavesdropping program. His nomination is sure to reignite the battle over the program on Capitol Hill, where one House Democrat promises "a partisan food fight" during the confirmation process.

Though Hayden, who has a close rapport with Vice President Cheney, has not been formally offered the job, he is the leading candidate and the announcement is planned for Monday at the White House, the sources said. The President frequently extends a formal offer immediately before an announcement, to cut down on leaks and allow for last-minute developments.

I think the "food fight" will be forthcoming within minutes of an announcement naming Hayden as Goss' replacement. I do find the last paragraph puzzling, especially since the substance of what Bush wants to avoid exposing has already been leaked to Time and CNN. It looks like Bush wants to take the weekend to gauge opinion on the Hill regarding Hayden, and will offer it to him on Monday if the trial balloon does not get shot down. That's an interesting strategy, but it indicates that the White House is concerned with the political meltdown that may occur with Hayden's nomination. It will be interesting to see whether the Democrats go ballistic this weekend, and whether that produces a different appointment on Monday.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 6, 2006 8:44 AM

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