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US: Lake's Withdrawal As CIA Nominee Prompts Criticism

Washington, 19 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton suffered another personal setback this week as one of his closest advisors withdrew his nomination to head the country's intelligence operations.

One White House official said the withdrawal of Anthony Lake as the nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency had given Clinton "more pain than his recent knee surgery."

Lake's decision to quit ended one of the biggest confirmation battles since Clinton first took office in 1993.

Under the U.S. constitution the appointment of all senior officials must be approved by the Senate in a process known as confirmation hearings.

The Democrats along with some political observers are viewing Lake's pullout as further evidence of a harsher more partisan political climate in the Republican-dominated congress.

Other recent appointments, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen, have, however, been easily confirmed.

In a three page letter to Clinton on Monday, which was released by the White House Tuesday, Lake, who was national security advisor to Clinton during his first term in office, described the confirmation hearings as a "political circus." He said they were "nasty and brutish without being short."

Lake had faced several days of intense scrutiny at the hearings, which began last week, about his integrity, his management skills and his fitness to head U.S. intelligence operations.

Specifically, he was asked about matters ranging from his personal finances to his failure to inform the Senate of a decision by the administration to allow Iranian arms sales to Bosnian Muslims. No wrongdoing has been discovered in either case.

Lake's nomination was announced by Clinton in December, but the Senate intelligence panel delayed the hearings twice. Lake said in the letter he believed further delays were in store in a process that was hurting both the CIA and National Security Council staff -- a situation which he said he could no-longer tolerate.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), Lake's main adversary in the hearings, has rejected criticism that the confirmation process has turned harshly partisan.

Shelby said Lake received fair treatment and that the Senate had "an obligation to rigorously examine anyone for a position as sensitive as CIA."

He said a vote was coming on the nomination by Thursday, but indicated that he thought Lake unsuitable for the job saying he "lacked managerial skills at every level."

Clinton's spokesman Michael McCurry said the president was "very saddened" by Lake's decision and felt that the confirmation process was "inexcusably flawed."

McCurry told a regular White House briefing Tuesday that the Senate Intelligence Committee had gone beyond its intended role to "advise and consent" and was playing politics with the president's nomination.

He added that Clinton believed the committee's usual bipartisan code of conduct had broken down.

Lake's successor at the National Security Council, Sandy Berger, also expressed sadness at Lake's decision. He said the confirmation process should be what he called an exercise of judgment rather than an exercise of endurance.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Lake's pullout is "a loss."

Lake, an architect of U.S. policy on Bosnia, Haiti and Russia, was one of the final members of Clinton's second term team awaiting confirmation by the Senate.

His decision to drop out, leaves the CIA adrift at a difficult time. The agency has been badly damaged by a series of disclosures that officials had sold secrets to the former Soviet Union.

Lake would have been Clinton's third CIA director in four years. He was nominated to replace John Deutch, who resigned in December after less than two years on the job.

Clinton's first CIA Director, James Woolsey, also resigned after becoming embroiled in the Aldrich Ames spy scandal. Ames, a former CIA agent, was caught in 1994 and convicted of spying for Russia for many years. He is serving a life sentence in prison.

Among those most likely to be considered for the post now are acting CIA director George Tenet, who was once staff director for the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who was considered for the post before Lake was chosen.