Gates nomination sent to Senate by panel, 11-4 But cloud remains over vote on floor

October 19, 1991|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 11-4 yesterday to recommend confirmation of Robert M. Gates to head the CIA, despite lingering doubts about his professional integrity and his denied involvement in the Iran-contra dealings.

Supporters, and even some opponents, predicted President Bush's controversial nominee would go on to win confirmation when the matter reaches the Senate floor, probably in a week or two.

But the comfortable margin of the committee vote did not necessarily guarantee easy passage for Mr. Gates in the Senate. It certainly belied the partisan sniping that characterized the hearings and closed-door deliberations of the last 4 1/2 weeks.

Committee Chairman David L. Boren, D-Okla., one of four Democrats who sided with the seven Republicans in favor of Mr. Gates, confirmed that the committee staff was continuing to compile information about the nominee at the request of some members.

Influential Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn said that while he was voting for Mr. Gates in the committee, he might oppose him on the floor unless he received satisfactory answers to certain questions he had put to the CIA.

"I have serious reservations, primarily about the signal being sent to the men and women in the intelligence community about how you get to the top in this town," Mr. Nunn said. The remark was an apparent reference to disputed allegations that Mr. Gates had sought to ingratiate himself by slanting intelligence assessments to suit the Cold War policies of his superiors while he held senior positions in the CIA during the 1980s.

Mr. Nunn did not specify what he still wanted to know about Mr. Gates. But an official with close links to the intelligence community told The Sun that the senator was trying to get a CIA memo allegedly written by Mr. Gates in the mid-1980s that purportedly showed he tried to distort intelligence about Soviet anti-ballistic missile capabilities.

Whether such evidence would change Mr. Nunn's position was unclear. The committee has already sifted through thousands of CIA documents, as well as heard testimony from former CIA colleagues, that suggested Mr. Gates was ideologically bound to Cold War dogma but convinced only four panel members to vote against him.

One of these, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D-S.C., delivered a contemptuous broadside against the nominee and the CIA, which he said was suffering from "cancer" -- a cancer of politicization that imbued the agency under former Director William J. Casey, Mr. Gates' boss, in the mid-1980s.

Mr. Hollings said that when he heard Mr. Gates had been nominated to be director, "I said heavens above . . . we've got Casey's chief agent, that carried out and spread this cancer, as the nominee."

Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., -- who, along with Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio and Sen. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, also voted against the nominee -- described Mr. Gates yesterday as "a man of the past."

Defendants of the nominee, however, remained firm.

"The question is not whether he did everything right in the early 1980s," said Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, the panel's senior Republican. "The question is whether he has grown and learned so that he is the right man for the early 1990s. . . . The answer clearly is yes."

Mr. Boren, who has built a close association with Mr. Gates the last four years, stressed what he said was a need to appoint an experienced career officer "who can hit the ground running," to cope with bewildering recent changes in global relations, as well as with the dramatic restructuring of the U.S. intelligence community and reduced intelligence budget expected over the next five years.

"This is no time to bring in a new director from the outside lacking in experience and detailed knowledge of the intelligence community," he said.

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