Here’s the inside story on how the White House made a big mistake in not consulting House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert on the CIA shakeups.
After President Bush named Joshua Bolten as his new chief of staff last month, Bolten huddled with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in Hastert’s imposing suite in the Capitol.
Bolten’s courtesy call with the speaker was welcomed as the start of a renewed, closer working relationship between the House Republicans and the White House.
But even with a staff shakeup, it seems certain people in the White House are not getting it when it comes to dealing with the speaker. Bolten is not being well-served by those under him when it comes to fostering a productive relationship with Hastert.
Hastert is not one to chase cameras. By design, he rarely makes news. He has been very loyal to the president, pushing the Bush agenda on Capitol Hill. So when he went public with his criticism of Bush’s nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to be the director of the CIA, it was big news: a Republican vs. Republican storyline.
Hastert told a reporter, “I don’t think a military guy should head the CIA.” That kind of concern, however, could have been easily communicated had he been consulted beforehand. But the speaker was not informed about Hayden in advance and he did not get a heads-up that Bush wanted to oust now-former CIA chief Porter Goss, a former House member.
Hastert should have been in the White House loop. Here’s why. Hastert is the nation’s No. 3 leader. Even if Bush picked Hayden over Hastert’s objections, at least the speaker would have been given his due. He’s cleared to hear about the nation’s secrets. It’s not well-known, but Hastert gets a weekly National Security Council briefing.
Not helping is that Hastert talked to John Negroponte, the national intelligence director, just before the changes and did not get a hint of what was to take place.
As a practical matter, didn’t the White House operation know that Hastert was close to Goss? It’s ironic, but on Wednesday, in an event that had been long planned, Hastert awarded Goss a “distinguished service award” in a ceremony in Statuary Hall.
Maybe the White House ignored Hastert because he does not vote to confirm a presidential nominee. But his words certainly influence those who do.
White House spokesman Alex Conant told me, “We realize that the speaker is upset over Porter Goss and will continue to work to address his concerns. The White House appreciates his strong leadership.”