Haywire in Washington Lake's withdrawal: CIA nominee a victim of fund-raising scandal and political warfare.

March 19, 1997

ALTHOUGH ANTHONY LAKE was always a questionable choice as Director of Central Intelligence, he did not deserve the partisan pummeling he got from the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee. Nor did his National Security Council deserve the high-handed exploitation it got from frenzied fund-raisers at the Democratic National Committee.

Mr. Lake is right that "Washington has gone haywire." But Washington is constantly haywire; it's just a matter of degree. There is poignancy in Mr. Lake's wish that the country at large "will demand that Washington give priority to policy over partisanship, to governing over 'gotcha.' " It is not meant to be, at least in present circumstances, and the fault lies as much with Mr. Lake's Clintonite friends as with his Republican foes.

The president has encountered trouble again and again in selecting leadership for intelligence agencies. Administration officials angrily complain that Mr. Lake's scalp had to be nailed on the wall because Mr. Clinton's other foreign policy choices -- Madeleine Albright as secretary of State, William Cohen as secretary of Defense -- were so unassailable. Republicans, they contend, needed a victim.

But it is not that simple. Mr. Lake's background was that of a Foreign Service officer and an academic. During most of his career, the only person he had to supervise was himself. When he became Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, he was responsible for several score subordinates. Yet the evidence suggests that he could not control even that small an operation and that his own staffers did not think to inform him of warnings that the Chinese were trying to influence the 1996 election or that the DNC was going over the head of the NSC to get an international fixer in to see the president. Serious matters. How, then, could he effectively manage the huge intelligence agencies?

Sen. Bob Kerrey, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has charged that the panel's Republican chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, "badly abused" Mr. Lake. But Mr. Kerrey has also said Mr. Lake's inattention to political meddling in the NSC was "a critical mistake and close to disqualifying."

So Mr. Lake's scalp is indeed on the wall. He is the first top-level casualty of Clinton fund-raising scandals that affect everything else in Washington from the budget battle to China policy to campaign finance reform. Mr. Clinton's next CIA nominee had better be someone who can give strong leadership to the demoralized intelligence community.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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