Hayden confirmed to top CIA job

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Gen. Michael Hayden won confirmation to be the 20th CIA director Friday in a lopsided Senate vote, placing a career Air Force officer in charge of the civilian spy agency that is grappling with intelligence reform at home as well as al-Qaida and other international threats.

The Senate approved Hayden in under three weeks by a vote of 78-15. He is expected to be sworn in next week.

Breaking with the White House, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter voted against the four-star general. The Pennsylvania Republican said he was protesting the administration’s failure to inform Congress of intelligence operations, particularly its warrantless surveillance program.

“I have no quarrel with General Hayden,” Specter said on the Senate floor.

On the final day before a weeklong Memorial Day break, the Senate rushed through a string of nominations, including former Idaho Gov.

Dirk Kempthorne as interior secretary, R. David Paulison as the new chief of the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency and former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

President Bush called Hayden a patriot and dedicated public servant whose experience makes him the right choice to head the CIA at a critical time.

“Winning the war on terror requires that America have the best intelligence possible, and his strong leadership will ensure that we do,” Bush said of Hayden in a written statement.

For just over a year, Hayden served as the top deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. He was National Security Agency director for the six years before that, beginning in 1999.

Through that role, Hayden became a key figure in the debate about Bush’s post-9/11 directive ordering the NSA to monitor – without court approval – the calls and e-mails of Americans when one party is overseas and terrorism is suspected. Hayden’s defenders say he was relying on the advice of top government lawyers.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who voted against Hayden, praised his ability to distill complicated issues into clear briefings for policymakers. But Feingold said he has a problem with the Bush administration’s surveillance, which he considers illegal.

“My concerns were about this administration’s attitude about the law, which Gen. Hayden adopted,” Feingold said in an interview. “That is unacceptable to me.”

On Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney said at the Naval Academy’s commencement that the program is “fully consistent with the constitutional responsibilities and the legal authorities of the president.” He called the program “essential.”

Hayden, 61, is the first military officer to run the CIA in 25 years, when retired Adm. Stansfield Turner was in charge. Some lawmakers questioned whether now is the right time for a uniformed officer to head the CIA, as the Pentagon assumes an increasingly dominant role in intelligence collection and analysis.

At his confirmation hearing, Hayden sought to assure lawmakers he would be independent from his military superiors, but he 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.”

The administration had to fill the CIA position after the sudden resignation on May 5 of Director Porter Goss, who had disputes with Negroponte and Hayden over the agency’s direction.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., considers Hayden “eminently qualified.” He said most of his committee’s members are not too concerned about Hayden or his relationship to the NSA program.

“He is probably recognized by Congress as the best briefer and the best person who has ever come to a hearing on intelligence,” Roberts said.

Among other confirmations:

-Paulison has served as acting FEMA director since September, taking over the beleaguered agency two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The way was cleared for his confirmation after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., ended his stall on the nomination because of a dispute over the agency’s flood insurance program.

-Kempthorne’s confirmation overcame objections from a small number of Democrats. The two-term Idaho governor and former Republican U.S. senator won approval on a voice vote after eight Democratic senators registered their opposition in an earlier test vote.

-Portman, the U.S. trade representative and a former GOP congressman from Cincinnati, will succeed White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. He was confirmed without opposition.

-Susan Schwab’s nomination to replace Portman as the president’s top trade negotiator ran into trouble. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said he bar a vote until Schwab – now a deputy trade representative – explained how the administration planned to get China to remove barriers that limit the ability of U.S. and other foreign financial service firms to do business in China.

-White House aide Brett Kavanaugh, after a three-year wait, was confirmed on a 57-36 vote as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has often served as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

-Dale Klein, Gregory Jaczko and Peter Lyons were confirmed as members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Bush plans to appoint Klein chairman of the commission.

AP-ES-05-26-06 2009EDT

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