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Last Friday, we were telling you about the abrupt resignation of CIA Director Porter Goss. Well, this Friday we're going to tell you about the tough questions facing the man picked to replace him. General Michael Hayden was on Capitol Hill today, laying the groundwork for his confirmation hearings next week. Hayden used to be head of the National Security Agency and Republican senators who met with him today say he owes them some explanations about a massive database of domestic phone records that came to light this week.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: Today's major newspapers all carried page one headlines about the bombshell USA Today dropped on its front page yesterday that shortly after the 9/11 attacks the National Security Agency, with General Michael Hayden at its helm, starting collecting millions of Americans' calling records. Today General Hayden got an early start on Capitol Hill, and devoted his day to damage control.
Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska) Thank you, sir, for coming by.
MICHAEL HAYDEN: Thanks so much.
HAGEL: And I'll look forward to seeing you next week.
HAYDEN: I'll see you next Thursday.
WELNA: Next Thursday is the day Hayden's to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senator he was calling on, Nebraska Republican Chuck Hagel, sits on that committee. With Hayden at his side, Hagel spoke words the general was clearly hoping to hear.
HAGEL: He does have my support. I think he's the right choice. I think it's a wise choice. That doesn't mean that I'll go easy with him and on him with questions. He's going to get tough questions. He knows that. He wants tough questions.
WELNA: Many of those questions, Hagel said, may have to be answered in a closed session during the confirmation hearings because of national security considerations. But Hagel said the NSA's phone records collection program will, in his words, clearly need to be aired.
HAGEL: He's going to have to explain what his role was, to start with. Did he put that program forward? Whose idea was it? Why was it started? He knows that. He welcomes those questions. He knows that he's not going to be confirmed without answering those questions. Whether that will be a complicating factor or just a factor remains to be seen.
WELNA: By tradition, nominees who have yet to have their confirmation hearings tend to let others speak for them. But Hayden came to his own defense today when a reporter asked about the NSA phone records program
HAYDEN: Everything that the agency has done has been lawful. It's been briefed to the appropriate members of Congress. The only purpose of the agency's activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the American people. And I think we've done that.
WELNA: And then it was on to see another Republican senator.
SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you. Good to see you.
HAYDEN: Great seeing you again.
COLLINS: Thank you.
WELNA: Maine Republican Susan Collins chairs the Homeland Security Committee that oversaw the reorganization of the intelligence establishment. After meeting today with Hayden, she said she got to know him well when the two worked together on the major overhaul two years ago.
COLLINS: From my personal experience with him, I am convinced that he would do a very good job as the Director of the CIA. Obviously I'm going to wait until the hearing's completed before reaching an absolutely final judgment, but I think this is an excellent selection.
WELNA: Still, Collins had some sharp criticism for the White House, which today had nothing more to say about the NSA program.
COLLINS: The administration needs to be more forthcoming. It is disconcerting to members of Congress and I think to the American people to have information come out by drips and drops, rather than the administration making the case for programs that I personally believe are needed for our national security.
WELNA: Both Collins and Hagel said they think hearings are called for on the NSA's phone records program. The Senate Judiciary Committee's chair, Arlen Specter, says he plans to haul before his panel executives from the phone companies that furnished data to the NSA. With so many questions coming from the Republican side of the aisle, Senate Democrats appear to have adopted a strategy of not getting in the way. Minority Leader Harry Reid met this afternoon with Hayden.
HARRY REID: We realize that he's been nominated for this job by the president, but he understands the intelligence world very well. And so we're not going to go into this in a negative tone, but a positive tone.
WELNA: Still, Reid said he does not think he's been briefed enough on the NSA's programs, though he said he has no specific problems with General Hayden himself.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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