Image: Michael Hayden
Dennis Cook  /  AP file
CIA director nominee Gen. Michael Hayden could be confirmed by the end of the week.
updated 5/23/2006 4:34:54 PM ET 2006-05-23T20:34:54

Gen. Michael Hayden moved a step closer Tuesday to becoming the nation’s 20th CIA chief, where he will take over a spy agency looking for a leader to steer it through troubles ranging from al-Qaida threats to Washington politics.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recommended confirmation, 12-3, with three of the panel’s seven Democrats voting against him. If the Senate approves him before Memorial Day, as expected, Hayden could be sworn in by the end of the week.

“We think he is an outstanding choice to head the CIA,” committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said after the vote. “He is a proven leader and a supremely qualified intelligence professional.”

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., praised Hayden for standing up to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on intelligence issues. “He has shown some independence and some backbone,” Levin said.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., voted in favor of Hayden but said: “My confidence in General Hayden should not be interpreted as confidence in this administration.”

Hayden, the former National Security Agency chief who became the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official last year, has emerged as a leading defender of the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

That defense has raised his profile as the Senate has considered his nomination as CIA chief. It has not seemed to harm his prospects, though Democrats say the program is on shaky legal footing.

Sen. Russ Feingold, who voted against Hayden, has deemed it illegal. “No one is above the law,” Feingold, D-Wis., an intelligence committee member, told Hayden at his confirmation hearing last week.

Also voting against his confirmation were Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

NBC News contributed to this story.

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