WASHINGTON -- The Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence committee gave a ringing testimonial yesterday on behalf of Robert M. Gates, boosting chances that he will be confirmed to head the CIA.
Sen. David L. Boren, D-Okla., was careful to say that he has not decided how he will vote on the controversial nomination when the committee he heads makes its recommendation to the full Senate.
But, telling committee members that he was taking on the role of a witness, Mr. Boren praised Mr. Gates as "the only strong advocate" in the administration for congressional supervision of U.S. intelligence agencies.
"Of all the people in the executive branch, he was the most consistent ally," Mr. Boren said later. "I have seen him argue with the president."
Yesterday, at the conclusion of three weeks of turbulent confirmation hearings, signs of a turnaround for the embattled Mr. Gates were evident as questioning shifted from allegations that he doctored intelligence assessments and penalized dissenters to how he would reorganize the CIA in a world no longer dominated by East-West conflict.
Mr. Gates' forceful rebuttal of the charges against him appeared to have reassured wavering supporters and blunted the arguments of his critics.
Now serving as President Bush's deputy national security adviser, Mr. Gates is a career CIA officer who was the top deputy in the agency during the Iran-contra affair.
Testimony offered during his confirmation hearings painted a picture of an ambitious and disciplined man eager to please the powerful people who helped him climb to the top while bruising )) the egos of subordinates.
Yesterday, the second day of his final round of questioning, Mr. ++ Gates pledged that, if confirmed, he would take a more collegial management approach as the CIA enters a period of major reorganization.
"I intend to make change a corporate effort," he said. "The kind of change we are contemplating cannot be viewed as being imposed from above in isolated bloodlessness."
The partisan arithmetic of the 15-member committee tends to favor Mr. Gates. All seven Republicans are expected to vote for ** him.
It would take only one Democratic vote out of eight for him to
gain a favorable recommendation from the committee, but such a narrow margin would guarantee a nasty confirmation battle on the Senate floor.
As it stood yesterday, Mr. Gates had a chance to pick up several Democratic votes.
Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., has said he is leaning toward Mr. Gates. Mr. Boren and Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., and John Glenn, D-Ohio, remain neutral. Mr. DeConcini said that some of his misgivings had been dispelled.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., said Thursday that he is inclined to vote against Mr. Gates. "I don't think you're the right man for the job, but I'm listening," Mr. Hollings told the nominee.
Sens. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., and Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, have been critical of Mr. Gates throughout the questioning.
The committee will schedule a vote after next week's Senate recess.
Mr. Boren, who has been committee chairman for five years, said Mr. Gates' help was invaluable in investigating the Iran-contra affair and negotiating a compromise with the administration aimed at preventing future CIA abuses.
"There was no single person during Iran-contra -- without exception -- who supported the efforts of this committee to get access to important information or get the truth reported more than the nominee, Mr. Gates," Mr. Boren said.
And there were "scores" of occasions when former CIA Director William H. Webster came forward with information on continuing, sensitive operations at the urging of Mr. Gates, the senator said.
"I know better than anyone who was the most forceful advocate for this committee, and it was the nominee, Mr. Gates," Mr. Boren said.