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Political Games Leave a Void in Leadership

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has postponed yet again, until March 11, confirmation hearings on the nomination of Anthony Lake to be director of central intelligence. The ostensible reason, according to Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), is that there are still a lot of “unanswered perplexing questions” about what Lake did and what policies he advocated in his four years as President Clinton’s national security advisor.

But surely the best place to raise those questions and seek answers is in formal sessions of the committee. That, after all, is what confirmation hearings are all about. Shelby’s tactics strongly suggest he is less interested in getting responses to the detailed questions he has raised than he is in dragging things out to a point where Clinton will ultimately be forced to withdraw Lake’s nomination. This is political gamesmanship, not a responsible approach to providing senatorial advice and consent on a key nomination. That game does not advance the need to fill the leadership void in the nation’s global intelligence operations.

Lake’s tenure as head of the National Security Council provides fair avenues of inquiry for the Intelligence Committee, because the policies he dealt with there have a direct relation to the intelligence operations he has been nominated to oversee. Shelby has raised some questions about these policies, but he has also accused Lake of ethical violations in the handling of his personal financial affairs, an allegation that a Justice Department investigation has failed to support. Further, there is now a charge that a member of Lake’s NSC staff may have been too cozy with a major foreign contributor to the Democratic Party. These are all matters the Intelligence Committee should explore. And certainly Lake deserves the chance to respond directly under oath to whatever doubts have been raised about him.

Shelby seems bent on denying that chance, preferring to use his power as chairman to stall the required hearing. In effect, he is moving to veto an appointment that 99 other members of the Senate have the right to vote on. That is not fair to Clinton, to Lake or to the Senate. It is not the way that the fate of a nomination should be decided.

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