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Clinton Picks Defense Official to Head CIA

March 12, 1995|DAVID G. SAVAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — One day after retired Air Force Gen. Michael P.C. Carns withdrew his nomination to head the CIA, President Clinton announced Saturday the selection of John M. Deutch, second in command at the Pentagon, to take over the troubled intelligence agency.

Deutch had actually been the President's first choice for the assignment but had declined the initial offer, leading the White House to nominate Carns on Feb. 8.

The President, in a statement issued by the White House, expressed regret that circumstances surrounding the Carns family's relationship with a Philippine immigrant they brought to the United States had forced the retired four-star general to step aside.

"I understand Gen. Carns' concern that allegations made against him in the course of his background investigation could be misconstrued and complicate his confirmation," the President said, expressing his admiration for the general's ability.

The FBI's background check had revealed that Carns and his wife brought the man, identified as Elbino Runas, to the United States under regulations allowing members of the armed services to bring household workers with them when they return from overseas duty. But it became clear that the Carnses had not followed regulations and were probably in violation of labor and immigration laws.

Furthermore, according to White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, the man's relationship with the family had deteriorated, and he had made what were termed "specious" allegations against Carns' family. McCurry and others involved in the matter would not say what those allegations involve.

In a statement released Saturday, Carns said he had decided to withdraw his name because "an allegation that I failed to properly compensate a young Filipino who legally accompanied us to the United States appears substantially correct." He also expressed a desire to protect his family from any further embarrassment.

Clearly eager to put the uncomfortable situation behind him, Clinton moved quickly to offer high praise for Deutch. Addressing some of the concerns Deutch had expressed when he declined the nomination late last year, the President said the job of CIA director would be raised to Cabinet status.

Deutch had worried that the CIA director would not have sufficient access to the President at a crucial time for the agency, which is undergoing a re-evaluation of its role in the post-Cold War world.

"In John Deutch, we have a dynamic, brilliant leader with all the necessary skills for this critical assignment, and my highest trust and confidence," Clinton said. "Strengthening U.S. intelligence is an effort to which I attach the highest personal priority."

Friends of Deutch said his only regret now is leaving his job as deputy defense secretary--one he is said to have enjoyed and one that has allowed him to take a leading role in everything from planning last fall's invasion of Haiti to pushing for answers about the mysterious illnesses that have plagued Persian Gulf War veterans.

"I look forward to this challenge with enthusiasm," Deutch said in a statement. "I look forward to working with (the President), the decision men and women of the intelligence communities and the Congress to strengthen the quality of our nation's intelligence service."

If confirmed, Deutch would take over just as a commission headed by former Defense Secretary Les Aspin is probing fundamental questions about the CIA's role in the post-Cold War world. The panel is due to report its findings by March, 1996, causing some to believe that the CIA director's role in the meantime could be limited to that of a kind of caretaker.

The agency also is still trying to recover from the embarrassing discovery of a Soviet spy, Aldrich H. Ames, in its counterintelligence division.

While the White House tried to put the best face on the sudden switch in nominees, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said the situation amounts to "another serious undermining of U.S. competency and credibility for the whole world to see."

The senator said his committee had known about Carns' troubles for weeks. "It is a little hard to understand why the White House did not know or pursue these issues long ago," he said.

Specter's committee will conduct the confirmation hearings on Deutch, who is expected to easily win approval from the full Senate.

The sudden turn of events concerning the CIA post highlighted a problem that has bedeviled the Clinton Administration almost since its beginning.

Just a month ago, the President heralded his selection of Carns, a decorated Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War who rose to become staff director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Gulf War. The 35-year military veteran's abrupt withdrawal marks the fourth time a high-level Clinton nominee has dropped out of consideration over troubles involving household help.

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