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Defense Nominee's Supporters Predict Swift Confirmation : New Probe of Tower Allegations May Last Till Midweek

February 05, 1989|JOHN M. BRODER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense-designate John Tower worked with aides on defense budget and military strategy issues Saturday as FBI agents continued an intensive investigation of the new allegations concerning the former Texas senator's private life.

Committee sources said Saturday that the new FBI inquiry is taking longer than expected and a report may not be ready for the White House and the committee before midweek.

Tower supporters, however, predicted that the new FBI inquiry--centering on allegations of drunkenness and personal misconduct--would come up empty and Tower would be confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee early next week.

Some Republican senators on the panel said that if a confirmation vote is stalled beyond midweek, they will accuse the Democrats of blocking the nomination for partisan political purposes.

Nunn Criticized

Several Republican Tower supporters--including Sens. Pete Wilson of California, John McCain of Arizona and Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming--already have criticized Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the committee's chairman, for delaying confirmation to consider last-minute charges against Tower that they believe have no merit.

Meanwhile, it was learned that the FBI has reviewed the results of Defense Department and State Department investigations of security violations at the Geneva diplomatic mission where Tower served as strategic arms talks negotiator in 1985-86.

During and shortly after Tower's tenure in Geneva, the agencies looked into allegations that an Air Force colonel serving on one of the arms control delegations--not Tower's--had improperly copied top-secret U.S. government cables, had slept with foreign women and had sexually harassed a secretary at the mission.

Tower Defends Colonel

Tower wrote a letter defending the colonel against the allegations, to which the officer eventually confessed. Tower later said that he wrote the letter based on his assessment of the officer's character, not on the basis of any knowledge of the allegations.

A second investigation found that the entire mission had a higher-than-normal number of violations involving the storage of sensitive documents. Some of Tower's staff were cited for failing to lock up classified files, but sources said the FBI review of the matter uncovered no "egregious" security violations by Tower or his staff.

A former official who worked at the mission during Tower's tenure there said that officials in the post occasionally received "pink slips" for leaving sensitive files on their desks at night. But this official said such minor violations are common at all U.S. diplomatic posts, were discovered quickly and resulted in no compromise of classified information by Tower or his staff.

Security lapses at the Geneva mission were the subject of hearings last year by Michigan Democratic Rep. John D. Dingell's investigations subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The committee's inquiry centered on Geneva security breaches and the Energy Department's hiring of the now-retired Air Force colonel as a consultant on nuclear weapons testing. Tower was mentioned only tangentially because of his letter of reference on the colonel's behalf.

The FBI review of the security investigations was part of its extensive background probe of Tower conducted before President Bush selected him for the Pentagon post on Dec. 16. The FBI file has been in the hands of the Armed Services Committee for weeks and apparently contained nothing that threatened Tower's confirmation.

But Nunn and ranking Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia announced Thursday that new information had come to the committee that required further FBI scrutiny. The material involves allegations of at least one recent episode of public intoxication and an affair with an unidentified Texas woman.

Tower denied before the committee last week that he had a current drinking problem, although he has acknowledged that he drank heavily in the past.

Staff writers Ronald J. Ostrow and Melissa Healy contributed to this story.

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