JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight the Lake hearings. After weeks of delay the Senate Intelligence Committee took up the nomination of Anthony Lake as director of Central Intelligence. Charles Krause has our story.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Last December, as part of an overhaul of his national security team, President Clinton nominated National Security Adviser Anthony Lake to be CIA director. Lake was to succeed John Deutch, becoming the administration's third CIA director since 1993. At the time the President was optimistic about Lake's prospects for overseeing the intelligence community which spends more than $30 billion a year.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I can think of no more powerful proof of my commitment to carry on John Deutch's work of maintaining a strong successful intelligence community than asking Tony Lake to take the helm as director of Central Intelligence.
ANTHONY LAKE, CIA Director-Designate: (December 5, 1996) When the President and I discussed a few weeks ago the prospect of my becoming director of Central Intelligence I was, to put it mildly, very enthusiastic. Over the last four years I've launched my mornings and I've finished my evenings with the briefs and analyses of the intelligence community. And I firmly believe that in the post-Cold War world the role of the CIA is more important than ever.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But within weeks congressional opponents delayed confirmation hearings twice.
SPOKESMAN: The committee will come to order.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Leading the opposition is Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama. Shelby has raised a number of questions about Lake which include Lake's part in the administration's decision to tacitly endorse Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia, his role in formulating Somalia policy at the time U.S. troops were killed there, Lake's delay in selling some energy stocks as demanded by the White House counsel when he joined the NSC, and what, if any, role the NSC and its staff played in the growing controversy over foreign contributions to President Clinton's re-election campaign.
A month ago the Justice Department reported on two matters Republicans asked it to investigate. The Department found that Lake had not lied to Congress on the Iran-Bosnia arms sale issue and he had not intentionally delayed selling his energy stocks. Still, the Justice Department recommended that Lake settle the stock problem by paying a $5,000 fine. On the fund-raising controversy the White House released documents last month showing that presidential aides were warned by Lake's staff about Asian-American fund-raisers now under investigation. This afternoon Sen. Shelby opened the hearing saying the intelligence committee is still awaiting more information from the White House without indicating whether he will vote for or against Lake's nomination. Shelby then went on to describe the personal qualities which he believes the new director of Central Intelligence, or DCI must have to run the CIA.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, Chairman, Senate Intelligence Committee: At a time when the agency seems to be under assault by those who question its very existence I believe we need a DCI that can stand up for the vital mission that the CIA plays in assuring this nation's stance as the most powerful force for the preservation of democracy throughout the world today.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Committee members expressed a range of views, some supportive and some critical. Montana's Democratic Senator, Max Baucus, for example, wondered if Lake had compromised his ability to reform the CIA, given Lake's reported meetings with members of the agency's covert operations directorate.
SEN. MAX BAUCUS, (D) Montana: Mr. Lake, I am disturbed by news reports that you met with members of the directorate of operations in order to get their support for your nomination. If true, it sounds a bit like the lion tamer trying to strike a deal with the lions. I believe one of the things the American people will look for from you is strong leadership to keep the CIA and the intelligence community on the right course. They expect a dynamic and firm hand at the controls. They want to know that the most secretive and powerful position in the government is in the hands of someone who can make tough choices usually out of their sight.
SEN. MIKE DeWINE, (R) Ohio: We have to very candidly look at what is the likelihood that further revelations about the White House and the NSC will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Lake to focus on his new job at the CIA, and maybe even force him to give it up entirely. We have to look at that.
SEN. CHARLES ROBB, (D) Virginia: I think it is important that we separate wheat from chaff if we do, if we can in this particular instance. I think if this committee were viewed, rightly or wrongly, as engaging in a confirmation process that could somehow be characterized as malicious wounding, that we would not serve Mr. Lake or the agency that he is scheduled to head. Nor would we serve this Senate, this committee, or this country.
CHARLES KRAUSE: After listening to the Senators toward midafternoon Lake delivered his opening statement, promising to work closely with Congress if he's confirmed and to provide both Congress and the President with unvarnished intelligence regardless of the political consequences.
ANTHONY LAKE, CIA Director-Designate: First we must have an intelligence process of absolute integrity. This will be my most solemn responsibility as director of Central Intelligence. Some have asked whether I, as a close associate of President Clinton and as a participant in policy discussions, can and will provide him the intelligence straight, and the answer is unequivocally, yes.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Shelby began the questioning asking Lake why President Clinton wasn't told about FBI warnings that the Chinese might attempt to funnel money into last year's election campaigns.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: Did the National Security Council staff aprise you of this briefing and its substance?
ANTHONY LAKE: No, sir, they did not.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: So you say they didn't. Well, why were you not informed of such a dynamite piece of news.
ANTHONY LAKE: Mr. Chairman, let me say first that the two officers involved are very, very fine career officials. Anybody on the NSC staff or on any staff every day has to make judgments as to which pieces of information, which decisions to take up, and which decisions and pieces of information to keep there.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: You should have known first and the President should have known. The President said he should have known this. Where was the failure?
ANTHONY LAKE: Chairman, as I was saying, first they had to make a decision on the information. Secondly, they had--
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY: They are the staff members.
ANTHONY LAKE: The staff members. And, as I said, unequivocally they did not inform me. I, however, Mr. Chairman, cannot sit in judgment now on the performance of those two very fine career staff officers because I have not seen that information. So I do not know the information on which they were basing the judgment that they made. And I think it would be very unfair for me to second guess them now when I do not have that basis to do so.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Lake's confirmation hearings are scheduled to continue tomorrow and in to next week.