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Republicans Grill Lake About His Politics, Past

March 13, 1997|JAMES RISEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The controversial nomination of Anthony Lake to be CIA director took an increasingly partisan turn Wednesday as conservative Republicans grilled him on whether he has a "contempt for Congress" and is too "passionate" in his generally liberal political beliefs to lead the U.S. intelligence community.

In the process, the GOP lawmakers opened old wounds both about the Vietnam War and the Cold War and seemed intent on placing Lake's personal politics on trial.

In a particularly tense exchange with Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a leading conservative on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Lake was asked whether he had ever publicly protested the Vietnam War. He replied that he only watched one demonstration from the sidelines. Inhofe also asked about Lake's decision to resign in protest from the White House National Security Council during the Nixon administration. He said he did so because of his opposition to the U.S. incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Inhofe then read Lake a list of controversial national security policies during the Reagan administration--ranging from the "Star Wars" missile defense initiative to covert action to arm the Nicaraguan Contras--and was asked whether he supported or opposed them.

Lake, the outgoing head of President Clinton's National Security Council, kept his cool, responding: "If you've reviewed my writings, senator, you may know that sometimes I disagreed and sometimes I actually agreed, which I think was unusual" for a Democrat.

Lake also was pummeled for his decision not to tell Congress about Clinton's 1994 decision to give a green light to Iranian arms shipments into Bosnia and whether that suggested a disdain for congressional notification. He acknowledged that it was a "mistake" not to tell Congress about the decision.

Recognizing the major factor that the issue has become in his confirmation hearings, Lake added: "I suspect there is no one in America who wishes more fervently than I that we had informed Congress."

In a sharp exchange with Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Lake defended the Clinton decision to allow Iranian arms to flow to Bosnia, arguing that the action took U.S. policy in the direction that many in Congress wanted it to go.

"Yes, but Congress made its decision publicly and on the record," Coats replied. "You did yours covertly and off the record."

Inhofe, in his questioning, also asked about Lake's decision to hire Morton Halperin, a foreign policy expert whose liberal views have enraged conservatives, for the Clinton administration's National Security Council. Halperin was a staff member at the NSC who was wiretapped by the Nixon White House to determine if he was the source of news leaks on Vietnam War policy.

"I hired him because he is a very competent professional," Lake said of Halperin. "I have not hired people because of their politics."

But Inhofe said he believes that Lake's political background, stretching back to his work for the 1972 presidential campaign of then-Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine), makes him ill-suited to the job of providing impartial intelligence both to the president and Congress.

"I am passionate in my beliefs and I think I would not make a good CIA director," Inhofe said. "Mr. Lake, I think you are just as passionate in your beliefs, although they are different from mine."

Lake was assailed again when he took issue with a House report that disagreed with the administration's position that Bosnia has now severed its military and intelligence ties to Iran. If he could dismiss the House report so easily, Inhofe asked, "what does that say about your contempt for Congress?"

Other GOP lawmakers agreed that Lake's role in the Iran-Bosnia matter is a symptom of a larger disregard for Congress.

"There is a pattern here," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan). He cited cases involving intelligence reports on Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and China in which Congress was not fully informed.

"In each and every case on these very tough decisions it seems to me that there was not a good relationship with Congress. . . . Give me some confidence that you will work with us," Roberts said.

Lake repeatedly stressed that he would go beyond the legal requirements of congressional notification. He said his new policy at the CIA will be: "When in doubt, inform."

Lake also denied reports that he helped oust the CIA's previous director, John M. Deutch, after Deutch told Congress that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had grown stronger in the wake of his incursion into northern Iraq last year.

Deutch's comments came during last fall's presidential campaign and there were widespread reports that both Clinton and Lake were furious about the remarks. Deutch subsequently resigned after failing in his bid to become Defense secretary in Clinton's second term.

Lake said both the president and Deutch have assured him that the former CIA director was not fired and that he resigned on his own.

"A man's reputation is at stake," Lake said. "Let me say that John Deutch is a friend of mine and I would have nothing to do with easing him out in order to get a job for myself."

Lake was not asked, however, whether Deutch's comments played a role in the president's decision not to offer him the job at the Pentagon.

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