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Senators Discuss the Anthony Lake Effect

March 18, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now to the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was holding the Lake confirmation hearings. Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, is the chairman. Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat of Nebraska is the Vice Chairman. Sen. Shelby, the President said that this was an act of political destruction. Do you agree with him?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, Chairman, Intelligence Committee: Oh, I don’t agree with him. I do agree we were conducting rigorous–a rigorous examination of Mr. Lake’s fitness for the job. That’s what I set out to do. That’s what other members set out to do. And I think that was proper in this kind of situation. I think that’s what we ought to do on every one that comes up for nominees, that’s nominated for a very important job. I think we’ve had fair hearings. Some people think otherwise. But we need to move forward and go on to the next day, go onto another nominee.

JIM LEHRER: Was Anthony Lake treated unfairly, Sen. Kerrey?

SEN. BOB KERREY, Vice Chairman, Intelligence Committee: I believe he was, Jim, both in that there was obstruction and delays in holding the hearings, themselves, raising the issue of FBI files far beyond what anybody had ever been through before, and requiring, suggesting that they might subpoena staffers to come up to the Hill and testify under oath, and I think a series of statements that implied that there was some criminal charge laying against him. Having said that, I do think there were some serious concerns especially raised, and I regret that Mr. Lake has withdrawn. I think he should have been given a chance to be voted upon. And I pledged my support for Sen. Shelby, and make certain that as the vice chairman of this committee that we go forward with whoever has been nominated and try to do, in my judgment, a better job in Sen. Shelby’s view, the same as we’ve done before. We have a job now to make certain in an expeditious a fashion as we can, get somebody confirmed so that the DCI has led.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: We’ve worked together on other committees. I believe we need to work together on this committee, and I believe we will in the future.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Shelby, what about the President’s point that he just made in that clip; that Tony Lake believe delay this vote of the committee for months, two, three months. Was he right? Was that your intent?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: No. It was not my intent. As a matter of fact, it was my intent to try to conclude these hearings these Thursday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Would we be able to do this? I don’t know, but that was my intent. Perhaps we wouldn’t finish them up because of information we needed but my intent was to go ahead with the hearings. I thought six days would be enough. I thought that would be exhausted, and we could move on and probably move the nomination to the floor.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Shelby, picking up on the point that Sen. Kerry made and also that Mike McCurry made today, why was it so important to you to get these FBI files on Anthony Lake when similar things were not asked of Madeleine Albright, were not asked of Sen. Cohen, any of the other people of the national security team this time during the confirmation process, only Anthony Lake. Why?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: My interest was when I was shown a brief summary of Mr. Lake’s FBI file, I thought it was not very complete. You know, I personally was not interested in raw files, but I was interested in complete files, or a lot more than I saw. We were given that. As a matter of fact, Sen. Kerrey and I spent last Friday afternoon looking through what they ultimately brought us, but I had a lot of other members on the committee that had asked that they be shown the files too. But Sen. Lott got the process going. I thought the process was moving. I regret that Mr. Lake withdrew. I think he should have stayed in there and let us vote on him up or down.

SEN. BOB KERREY: Well, if I may respond, Jim, the files that we provided last Friday were way beyond any standard that we’ve ever had any nominee for DCI in the past, Judiciary Committee standards, which is a lifetime standard for judges, and the signal that the chairman sent both to me and to Mr. Lake was that might not be adequate. So, I mean, I do think it was a signal there was a possibility the vote may not occur next week.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Kerrey, Mike McCurry, the President’s press secretary, said today, said this afternoon that Republican staffers on your committee, on the Senate Intelligence Committee, were passing along malicious personal information about Anthony Lake and that Sen. Shelby should be held accountable for that sort of thing. First of all, did you hear that, and do you agree with McCurry?

SEN. BOB KERREY: I have no evidence of that at all. That’s the first time I’ve heard of it. I did not hear Mr. McCurry’s statement. I have not heard any statements to that effect so far.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Let me respond to that.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: First of all, I haven’t heard that either. But I don’t believe that we have anything except a professional staff on the Intelligence Committee. I don’t believe that it would get into that. I don’t think–I never heard of it. And if they did, I think Sen. Kerrey and I would get together and have new people on the committee.

SEN. BOB KERREY: I will say that I’ve heard as recently as this morning members make statements that leave the impression that Tony Lake is under some sort of criminal investigation as a result of the stock transfer that didn’t occur in the timely fashion, as well as around Bosnia. In both cases the Justice Department’s investigated, and it’s concluded that nothing criminal occurred at all, or the $5,000 fine in one case and a complete exoneration in the other. So there have been as recently as this morning, I’ve heard members make statements that leave the impression that Tony Lake has violated a criminal statute, which I think is an innuendo that leads people to challenge his integrity when no challenge, in my judgment, should stand.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Sen. Kerrey’s absolutely right on that, and the air should be cleared.

JIM LEHRER: Do you question Anthony Lake’s integrity, Sen. Shelby?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: I never questioned his integrity. I laid out the criteria that I thought was interested–should be for the job. Integrity would be the No. 1 thing. I thought independence and management skills would also flow in that direction. I believe the question of integrity was brought forth by the media because there was an investigation regarding the failure to sell some stocks by Mr. Lake and also because there was a criminal referral from the House to the Justice Department that Sen. Kerrey referred to that’s been concluded.

JIM LEHRER: Let me ask you both this–and start with you, Sen. Shelby–how should this end result be viewed by the American public, that it was a fair and just process and the country was saved a bad choice for director of Central Intelligence, or it was an unfair and unjust process, and the country was denied the services of an honest and competent man?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I just believe the process was incomplete. I believe that Mr. Lake showed in the three days that I spent with him that he was an honorable person, a well-educated man, a knowledgeable man, but I thought that he lacked very good management skills that were very important. And I think ultimately that was an issue. Would it have been enough to take him down? I don’t know.

JIM LEHRER: Is this the result you wanted, his not being director of Central Intelligence?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Not necessarily. I think that we needed to complete our hearings and then decide what we want.

JIM LEHRER: How would you draw the conclusion, Sen. Kerrey?

SEN. BOB KERREY: I don’t think it was a fair process. Even in the case of John Tower he was on the floor of the Senate by the 2nd of March. Here it is the 18th of March, and even if Tony Lake had had his hearings this week, it’s not clear to me he would have been voted out of the committee and on the floor till after Easter, so, as I said, I think there were obstacles that were too high for anybody to be able to get over in terms of delivering FBI documents and interviewing staffers. And I think there were innuendos that left the impression that Mr. Lake was something other than what he actually was. Having said that, my intent again is to work with the chairman and make sure that we get somebody confirmed as quickly as possible. I had my own concerns about Mr. Lake. I’ve raised them with him both privately and publicly in the hearings. I regret that he withdrew, but now the business at hand is to wait for the next nominee and make sure that we learn from this process and hopefully can get somebody confirmed as quickly as possible.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Yeah. Let’s go forward.

JIM LEHRER: All right. But before we go forward, though, how should this–this is a very dramatic event. A man’s nominated by the President of the United States to be director of Central Intelligence. He withdraws and says this is a circus, a political circus, and the President of the United States says it was political destruction. How should the American public view this?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, we’ll let the American public make up their own mind, as they will, and I don’t believe you are me or Sen. Kerrey will influence that too much, but ultimately we’ve got to remember that this is a nomination. The nomination didn’t go forward because he withdrew, not because we voted him down or voted him out. This will happen again on some nominees. It always has. Look at the history.

SEN. BOB KERREY: I do think there will be a lot of qualified people who right now if they were asked by the President to serve as DCI would say no.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Sen. Shelby?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: That might be true, but we’ll also through the nomination process by rigorous examination keep people from serving that might want to serve but shouldn’t serve.

JIM LEHRER: And you think that’s what happened in this case?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I said I don’t think we ever carried it out to the ultimate conclusion.

JIM LEHRER: Do you, Sen. Kerrey, agree with the President? This was a loss for the country; that Tony Lake did not become director of Central Intelligence?

SEN. BOB KERREY: Well, I think it was a loss for the country. And as I said, we set the bar so high it’s difficult for me to imagine. When I say rigorous examination, I’m with Sen. Shelby. I want one as well. But I don’t think we should have a standard that’s so high that nobody could possibly meet it. And when you say that I’ve got to look at the detailed background investigation, you’re now asking for something beyond what anybody’s ever had before. And when statements are left out there hanging, innuendos imply that there’s a criminal charge laying against this man, as well as other things, and when you plow up the Alger Hiss case and all sorts of other things, it just leaves people the impression that if they come before this committee, they’re not going to get the kind of hearing that they ought to. Again, like I said, as far as I’m concerned, it’s water under the bridge. I think we’ve got a very good opportunity to come back with the President’s new nominee and give this individual a good, fair hearing and get somebody confirmed over there at DCI.

JIM LEHRER: Water under the bridge, Sen. Shelby, and you’re comfortable with what happened?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Well, I told you that I didn’t think it went to the conclusion. Mr. Lake withdrew on his own volition. Let’s go to the future.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.

SEN. BOB KERREY: Thank you.