President Obama's nominee for the nation's top intelligence job has begun to meet with key senators who have expressed skepticism about his commitment to the position's independence. Gen. James Clapper (ret). had a "cordial" meeting with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and later spoke with one of its top Republicans, Saxby Chambliss, two officials said.
The White House wants the Senate to hold confirmations hearings in short order, but Feinstein and her colleagues want to use the leverage of the upcoming debate about the intelligence budget to press Clapper and the executive branch for more concessions on oversight matters and reform.
A few days ago, Feinstein and other senators said that a budget memo from Clapper's office at the Department of Defense suggested to them that he views the scope of the DNI job too narrowly and believes the Secretary of Defense's authority on military intelligence matters is paramount.
Clapper's allies have offered two defenses. One -- the memo was a pro forma recitation of the Defense Department's posture toward the DNI, one that Clapper intends to straighten. Two, that Clapper and the senators don't actually disagree about the relative authority the DNI has and are arguing semantics. Only recently have key senators begun to express concern about the statutes enlivening the DNI job. Obama said Clapper's task, which he acknowledged would be "tough," would be to lead an "integrated team that produces quality, timely and accurate intelligence."