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Hayden Hijinks | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Hayden Hijinks

If there actually was an opposition party in Washington, the nomination of Air Force General Michael Hayden to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency would have been doomed from the start.

Hayden's involvement as head of the National Security Agency with the illegal warrantless wiretapping program initiated by the Bush administration, his role in the secret accumulation of the phone records of tens of millions of Americans for surveillance purposes, his unapologetic rejection of the rule of law and his limited acquaintance with the Constitution would surely have stalled his nomination. And the fact that a member of the military should not head the civilian intelligence agency that is charged with provided unbiased information to elected officials – as opposed to the Pentagon line – would have finished Hayden off.

In the face of a united Democratic opposition, a sufficient number of Senate Republicans, ill at ease with the administration's reckless approach and increasingly concerned about the damage President Bush and his aides are doing to their party's credibility and political prospects, would have abandoned Hayden.

Unfortunately, there is no opposition party in Washington.

There is, instead, a Democratic Party that, when push comes to shove regularly allows itself to be shoved.

So it come as little surprise that Hayden's nomination has sailed through the Senate, winning approval Friday by a 78-15 vote. Most Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, joined the vast majority of Republicans in rubberstamping George W. Bush's poke-in-the-eye pick to head the CIA.

The die was cast when the Hayden nomination was considered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Four Democrats who should know better – California's Dianne Feinstein, West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, Michigan's Carl Levin and Maryland's Barbara Mikulski -- voted with the united Republican majority to approve the appointment. Then, the Senate Armed Committee casually voted to reappoint Hayden as a four-star general, a move that effectively signaled surrender in the debate over whether the CIA should be headed by a military man.

In this disappointing scenario, it should be noted that a handful of Democrats did attempt to check and balance a lawless president by refusing to support his equally lawless nominee. Voting against Hayden's nomination were Democrats Evan Bayh of Indiana, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Hillary Clinton of New York, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama of Illinois, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Intriguingly, the dissident Democrats were joined in their opposition to Hayden by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who has been increasingly restive regarding the administration's assault on basic freedoms.

Predictably, the Senate's most diligent critic of the administration's reckless disregard for the rule of law was the most outspoken objector to Hayden's nomination.

"I voted against the nomination of General Michael Hayden to be Director of the CIA because I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress's oversight responsibilities," explained Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who bluntly declared that, "as Director of the NSA, General Hayden directed an illegal program that put Americans on American soil under surveillance without the legally required approval of a judge."

"Our country needs a CIA Director who is committed to fighting terrorism aggressively without breaking the law or infringing on the rights of Americans. General Hayden's role in implementing and publicly defending the warrantless surveillance program does not give me confidence that he is capable of fulfilling this important responsibility," explained Feingold, who cast one of the three dissenting votes when the Hayden nomination was considered by the intelligence committee.

Noting that Hayden had failed in his testimony before the Intelligence Committee to express any reservations about the administration past misdeeds, that the general had evidenced little respect for congressional oversight and that he gave misleading testimony to the Intelligence Committee in 2002, Feingold concluded that, "The stakes are high. Al Qaeda and its affiliates seek to destroy us. We must fight back and we must join this fight together, as a nation. But when Administration officials ignore the law and ignore the other branches of government, it distracts us from fighting our enemies. I am disappointed that the President decided to make such a controversial nomination at this time. While I defer to Presidents in considering nominations to positions in the executive branch, I cannot vote for a nominee whose conduct raises such troubling questions about his adherence to the rule of law."

If there actually was an opposition party in Washington, Feingold's position would be its official stance. Instead, the man who has fought a lonely battle to censure the president for initiating and maintaining an illegal domestic surveillance program, is still dismissed by most of his fellow Democrats as too aggressive, too principled, too committed to the Constitution. So it goes, as the majority of Feingold's Democratic colleagues continue to promote the nominations and the policies of a failed president who polls tell us now has the approval of less than one-third of Americans.

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