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Democrats call out ex-CIA chief's 'condescending' remarks

Responding to ex-CIA director's loaded remarks in calling a top female senator too "emotional," Democrats are lashing out against the "condescending" comments.
Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency (NSA), speaks during a conference hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center on Aug. 6, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, speaks during a conference hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center on Aug. 6, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Responding to former CIA Director Michael Hayden's loaded remarks calling a Senate committee chairwoman too "emotional," top Democrats unleashed a broad counterattack this week panning the "condescending" comments.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein saw several Democratic colleagues come to her defense Monday after Hayden suggested the intelligence committee chairwoman was was not objective in the Senate's report on Bush-era torture and interrogation tactics.

“Gen. Hayden condescendingly accused Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of being too emotional,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor. “She has been fearless. She has been thorough and fair. And for this man to say that because she criticizes tactics led by Gen. Hayden—that was torture—she is being too emotional? I don’t think so.”

The rift broke out over the weekend during Hayden's appearance on on Fox News Sunday. Hayden, who helmed both the CIA and the National Security Agency under former President George W. Bush, scoffed at Feinstein's assertions that her committee's landmark report on CIA interrogation should be made public.

“Now that sentence that the motivation for the report may show deep emotional feeling on the part of the senator,” Hayden told host Chris Wallace. “But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.”

Other senators lashed out at Hayden's comments--which targeted only Feinstein and none of her male colleagues--for crossing the line.

Hayden’s “baseless smear” went “beyond the pale,” said Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, in a statement Monday. “I highly doubt he would call a male chairman too ‘emotional.'”

Reid extended his criticism beyond Hayden by jabbing at a tender area for his Republican colleagues. “Does this sound like a person or party that respects women?” he asked. By the party’s own measure, Republicans must win over women voters in order to make significant gains in the upcoming midterm elections. Mudling their record, however, is the right’s reception to the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the Republican National Committee has criticized as “misleading” and a “desperate political ploy.” The Senate plans to vote on the measure—aimed at leveling pay disparities between men and women—as soon as Wednesday.

Hayden’s flap also strains already existing tensions between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee voted last Thursday to declassify parts of a controversial investigation into the CIA's enhanced interrogation program under President Bush. In a scathing report, committee members charge that the agency lied about the effectiveness of the program. Feinstein earlier in the year accused the agency of spying on members of Congress, violating the law and the U.S. Constitution. The CIA pushed back, claiming Senate staffers broke the law by accessing classified documents.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who serves alongside Feinstein on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Hayden's integrity into question over his "simply outrageous" remarks. Wyden went on to say the former intel chief has a “long history of misleading the American public.”

Feinstein herself stopped short of characterizing Hayden’s comments as sexist, but she defended her report is “objective, based on fact, thoroughly footnoted, and I am certain it will stand on its own merits.”