James Clapper, Obama's choice to become the next director of national intelligence, argued in April against the strengthening of the very position he is now poised to assume.
In an April 28 memo he sent to every Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Clapper laid out more than a dozen detailed points to argue that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence should not be given the increased power and authorities leading senators now feel is necessary. The memo is now at the center of the serious questions the leaders of the Intelligence Committee have about supporting Clapper's nomination.
Committee leaders Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, and Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-MO, expressed serious reservations about the Clapper nomination even before it was decided, arguing that the Pentagon already has too much control over the intelligence community and expressing doubt that he would have the clout to wrangle all 16 intelligence agencies to do what he wants. Those senators have also been pushing for a new intelligence authorization bill that would strengthen the DNI position in line with a Senate proposal that was watered down by the House some years back.
Both Feinstein and Bond said Tuesday that Clapper's memo, which he wrote in his capacity as the under secretary of defense for intelligence, calls into question his commitment to making the DNI role as powerful as it could be.
"He has not been in favor of a strong DNI," Feinstein said, adding that she won't move the Clapper nomination until the intelligence bill gets passed. The Senate already passed it and the ball is now in the House's court, she explained.
Obama called Feinstein personally about the nomination, she said. "He said that he was going to do this," and asked for her support. She only said, "Thank you, Mr. President."
Feinstein won't say yet whether or not she is inclined to support the nomination, pending her meeting with Clapper.
"If we're going to have a DNI... he's got to be able to move the deck chairs on the Titanic," she said. "Because if he can't do that, he's not going to have the clout, presence, or ability to do what needs to be done."
Bond wasn't so cautious, saying openly that he had "very grave concerns" about the Clapper nomination, and was "very strongly inclined" to vote against him.
"He has been very strongly defensive of the secretary of defense's prerogatives and has attempted to block our intelligence authorization bill," said Bond.
Bond got a call from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who told the senator, "Where he stands is where he sits," to which Bond responded sarcastically, "Yeah, and a leopard changes his spots, too."
If somehow Clapper and Obama are able to assuage Feinstein and Bond's concerns, Clapper should be able to get confirmed. The Cable spoke with four of the other six Republicans on the intelligence committee and none of them are inclined to vote against Clapper.
"I think Jim Clapper comes with a varied experience that offers great potential to that role," said committee member Richard Burr, R-NC, who said he was inclined to support him.
Likewise for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT, who said, "My inclination is to support him."
Committee members Olympia Snowe, R-ME, Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Bill Nelson, D-FL, all said they hadn't yet made up their minds.
UPDATE: According to a White House official, the memo in question was an "information paper" that was specifically requested by the House Armed Services Committee and prepared by Clapper's staff. The paper was narrowly construed to address how the draft intelligence bill would affect the authorities of the Secretary of Defense and therefore does not represent Clapper's overall personal opinion about the role and responsibilities of the DNI position, the official said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.