President Barack Obama on Saturday nominated James Clapper, the Defense Department’s top intelligence official, to oversee the nation’s vast intelligence community. But the selection of the retired Air Force general to serve as director of national intelligence drew criticism from Capitol Hill and intimations of a stormy Senate floor debate over his nomination.
Congressional Republicans generally wrapped their criticism of the pick in a larger critique of the Obama administration’s approach to combating terrorism.
But Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also raised concerns about the nomination late last month, telling Foreign Policy magazine’s “The Cable” that she preferred to see a civilian in charge of the intelligence community.
Obama, in a Rose Garden announcement, called Clapper “one of America’s most experienced and respected intelligence professionals” and called on Congress to clear his nomination “during this work period.”
Congress returns next week for a four-week legislative stretch before the July Fourth recess.
Obama noted that the Senate has confirmed Clapper for four positions over the years with “overwhelming” support. The president said he spoke with Congressional leaders about the nomination and stressed that Clapper “knows the importance of working with Congress.”
Clapper, in brief remarks, turned to the president and said the DNI post was “a job that cannot be done without your support and that of Congress.”
Clapper would replace Adm. Dennis Blair, who was forced to resign last month as DNI amid strained relations with the White House and increased scrutiny following the attempted Times Square bombing, the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, and the attempted Christmas bombing of a commercial jet over Detroit.
Senate Intelligence ranking member Kit Bond (R-Mo.) on Friday said he was likely to oppose the Clapper nomination.
“Unfortunately, with his pick in Jim Clapper as the next DNI, the President has ensured our terror-fighting strategy will continue to be run out of the Department of Justice and White House,” Bond said in a statement. “While Jim has served our nation well, he lacks the necessary clout with the President, has proven to be less than forthcoming with Congress, and has recently blocked our efforts to empower the DNI, which is why at this time I’m not inclined to support him.”
Bond told the New York Times this week that he believed Clapper was too focused on Defense Department issues to effectively manage the entire intelligence community. Republicans have also suggested that Clapper lacks the status and relationship with the president to oversee CIA Director Leon Panetta.
House Intelligence ranking member Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who has accused the White House of scapegoating Blair for intelligence failures in the attempted Times Square bombing and other episodes, alleged over the week that Clapper has insufficient respect for Congress’ oversight role.
Clapper, 69, has had a long career on the military side of the intelligence community, starting out as a signals intelligence officer in the Air Force and rising to director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired from the Air Force in 1995 as a lieutenant general.
Clapper spent several years in the private sector, working for companies including Booz Allen Hamilton and SRA International.
In 2001 he was tapped to serve as director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a post he held until 2006. The New York Times reported that he left amid frequent clashes with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, only to be brought back to the Pentagon after Rumsfeld was fired.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates selected Clapper in 2007 for his current job as undersecretary for intelligence.