Lake ends nomination to run CIA He angrily blames 'endless delays' of panel's GOP majority

'They wanted a scalp'

Nominee tells Clinton it was 'football game with moving goal posts'

March 18, 1997|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Anthony Lake withdrew yesterday as President Clinton's nominee to be director of central intelligence, saying he had run out of patience with the "endless delays" imposed by the Senate in approving him for the job.

"It is a football game with constantly moving goal posts," Lake complained in a letter to the president.

The withdrawal by Lake, a former Foreign Service officer, college professor and author who served as national security adviser during Clinton's first term, ended a tumultuous confirmation fight that until yesterday appeared far from over.

Michael McCurry, the White House press secretary, said Clinton "expressed very strong feelings that Tony should stick to it and gain the confirmation he deserves." But the president "indicated he would respect [Lake's] personal wishes," McCurry said.

A senior White House official said Lake met with the president, who "tried to talk him out of it" but to no avail.

"They wanted a scalp -- now they've got it," the official said bitterly.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, the Alabama Republican who heads the Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, had been responsible for two delays in scheduling Lake's hearing and for the prolonged investigation by committee staff.

In a statement read by his press secretary, Shelby said:

"Although I found Lake to be intelligent and amicable, I continued to have strong reservations about his fitness to be director of central intelligence. I wish Mr. Lake well."

Lake had undergone a Justice Department probe into his personal finances, a second probe into whether he had misled Congress over Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia, demands by the intelligence panel for detailed FBI information on him, lengthy and pointed questioning before the committee, and conservative attacks on his ideology.

He was forced to defend his ignorance of alleged Chinese attempts to spend money illegally on the 1996 U.S. elections. xTC Lake also faced new questions about the Democratic National Committee's apparent end-run around Lake's staff in an effort to get a controversial Lebanese businessman and Democratic Party contributor into the White House to see the president and vice president.

In his letter, Lake said he had enough votes to be confirmed by the Senate and he denied that he was withdrawing because he expected more personal attacks.

"That gantlet has been run. Every question has been answered," he said.

Instead, he said, "After more than three months, I have finally lost patience, and the endless delays are hurting the CIA and NSC staff in ways I can no longer tolerate."

He wrote Clinton that Shelby, "having now reviewed the positive FBI materials underlying the report on my background investigation, may want other members of the committee to read them. I had doubts about the precedent we have already set in allowing him and the vice chairman [Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska] such access. To bend principle further would even more discourage future nominees to this or other senior positions from entering public service.

"I am also told that his committee staff will again insist that NSC staff meet with the committee on terms that White House counsel will find unacceptable, leading to a further stalemate on the issue as well."

"I have believed all my life in public service. I still do. But Washington has gone haywire," Lake said.

Laura Cox, Shelby's spokeswoman, said that the committee had considered "possibly" issuing subpoenas for NSC staff members testify, but declined to identify them.

Lake had been challenged during questioning last week about an FBI briefing to two subordinates, Rand Beers and Edward Appel, about alleged Chinese efforts to influence the elections. The White House has said that information was never passed to Lake or the president, further fueling the battle over the confirmation.

Yesterday, the name of Sheila Heslin, an NSC Central Asian specialist, surfaced in a Wall Street Journal story about attempts by Lebanese businessman Roger Tamraz to gain access to the White House. Contrary to the wishes of the DNC, Heslin tried to block Tamraz's access, and received strong backing in doing so from Nancy Soderberg, Lake's deputy at the NSC.

Although the Journal article indicated that Tamraz gained nothing out of his White House visits, it noted that Lake was apparently unaware of the internal struggle over allowing the access to the businessman.

Lake, in his letter, said "the story today about the activities of Mr. Roger Tamraz is likely to lead to further delay as an investigation proceeds."

Cox said Shelby "found the article disturbing."

A senior administration official said that the panel's investigation of Lake went beyond what has previously been reported.

The official said panel staff had asked the highly secretive National Security Agency, the Fort Meade-based agency that records and analyzes intercepted international messages, for "intercepts that may have had derogatory material on Lake."

Asked if the official's charge were true, Cox said, "Not to my knowledge."

Officials last night offered no names of a new nominee. This means Deputy Director George Tenet, a former congressional staff member, will remain for the time being as acting director of the spy agency.

Lake had been nominated to succeed John M. Deutch, who took over the CIA when it was still reeling from the Aldrich Ames spy scandal.

Deutch has returned to an administrative post at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lake, a soft-spoken intellectual with a expertise in Africa, Central America and the peace process in Northern Ireland, began work for Clinton as a foreign policy adviser in the 1992 presidential race.

Pub Date: 3/18/97

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