It happened in reference to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who has been embroiled in a battle with the CIA over a Senate report that detailed the spy agency’s actions in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,” Feinstein, who as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee has certainly been privy to the report’s findings, said last month.
Hayden, whose tenure as head of the NSA and CIA overlapped with the period probed by Senate investigators, all but dismissed Feinstein in a "Fox News Sunday" interview with host Chris Wallace.
“Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on the part of the senator,” he said. “But I don't think it leads you to an objective report.”
Points for not calling her hysterical. But it was a breathtaking slap at a senator who, until lately, has taken substantial political heat for defending the nation’s spy agencies.
And it was a slap unlikely to have been launched against a male head of an intelligence committee, no matter how fierce the fight. (A cursory view of some of the millions of articles about other intelligence committee heads turns up no similar characterization.)
The reality is that Feinstein is many things. To cite the things that occasionally either impress or drive people crazy: persistent to the point of irascibility, stubborn as the day is long, as imperial as any member of the vaunted Senate.
But emotional is not what comes to mind.
This is not the first time a gender hit has been directed at Feinstein. Her battle for an assault-weapons ban 20 years ago led then-Idaho Sen. Larry Craig to suggest that the “gentlelady from California” needed to be “a little bit more familiar with firearms and their deadly characteristics.”
Feinstein leveled him with a steely recounting of her discovery of the body of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk after the 1978 City Hall shootings that took the lives of Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
“I am quite familiar with firearms,” Feinstein said. “I became mayor as a product of assassination. I found my assassinated colleague and put a finger through a bullet hole trying to get a pulse. Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”
Her response to that shooting accelerated Feinstein’s political career. She became mayor upon Moscone’s death and, after a failed run for governor, won election to the Senate in 1992.
She did not respond to Hayden’s description but rather took pains to say that the Senate report was not preordained by partisanship. She also noted the bipartisan vote to declassify it.
“The report itself is objective, based on fact, thoroughly footnoted, and I am certain it will stand on its own merits,” she said in a statement. “The facts in the report came from documents provided by the CIA and the result is a comprehensive history of the CIA program. The only direction I gave staff was to let the facts speak for themselves."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did what Feinstein would not, and blistered Hayden’s word choice in remarks from the Senate floor Monday.
“This woman has been an outstanding leader of the Intelligence Committee,” he said. “She has been fearless, she has been thorough, and fair.”
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall added his criticism, saying in a statement that “former CIA Director Hayden's baseless smear of Chairman Feinstein is beyond the pale.”
“I highly doubt he would call a male chairman too 'emotional' and to do so with Chairman Feinstein is unacceptable," Udall said.
But back in the real world, the conservative Breitbart website on Monday heralded its new focus on California with mock portraits that included one of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on her hands and knees, wearing skimpy clothing and tongue lolling from her mouth. (Gov. Jerry Brown, on the other hand, was drawn as though he was as muscled as his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger).
The ease with which Hayden tossed off his insult and Breitbart published its own lent credence to Clinton’s comments last week when she was asked if there remained a “double standard” about “women in public life.”
It was a sentiment drawn on her own experiences — a big hit among opponents of her 2008 presidential campaign was the "Hillary Nutcracker," a plastic representation of the candidate with serrated metal blades lining her inner thighs — and is no small matter of concern as she considers a second run in 2016.