Michael P.C. Carns, the retired Air Force general selected by President Clinton to be director of Central Intelligence, said Friday that he was withdrawing from the post after the FBI uncovered a tangled set of personal circumstances that may have included violations of labor and immigration law.
Clinton, who has been without a chief intelligence officer for nearly three months, immediately chose Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch to replace Carns as his new nominee for the intelligence post, a senior White House official said.
Deutch had earlier declined the intelligence job, which the agency’s recent problems have turned into one of the least desirable high-level posts in Washington.
The bureau had been investigating the circumstances under which Carns arranged to bring a young family friend into the United States from the Philippines and had concluded that he may have violated labor and immigration laws in doing so.
Carns said in an interview that he had made “a gross error” in dealing with the Filipino man, Elbino Runas. He said he had not fully understood until being told by the federal investigators last week that the arrangements he had with Runas were improper.
Carns brought Runas to the United States in the late 1980s as a member of his household. He said he did so to free him from a life of poverty in the Philippines.
But Carns said the main reason for his decision to withdraw was what he called unwarranted accusations of a personal nature against his family made by Runas in interviews with the federal investigators.
“I see no reason to put my family through it and I see no reason to put myself through it because it would embarrass me and the administration,” Carns.
He said he had made the decision Friday after several days of discussions with senior officials at the White House, where aides to Clinton made clear that they had also come to see the nomination as untenable.
Carns said that even before he was chosen, he had mentioned his arrangement with Runas to the White House, when he was asked if he had anything in his background that could cause political trouble, like the dispute over domestic employees that had sunk Zoe Baird and other earlier Clinton administration nominations.
Carns said that Runas was treated as a family member. But the FBI determined that Runas had been brought to the United States under an immigration program that permits Americans living abroad to bring foreign nationals home as domestic employees. Carns never paid Runas the wage required by the policy and permitted him to work outside the home in violation of labor and immigration laws.
The abrupt withdrawal of Carns is the latest in a long string of failed nominations by Clinton of officials to high government posts. He was chosen only after Deutch expressed reluctance about taking the job, and the collapse of his nomination will prolong a vacancy at the CIA that opened in December, when R. James Woolsey resigned unexpectedly from the job.
A senior White House official said that Clinton telephoned Carns at his mother’s home in Northern California this afternoon to express regret at his decision. But after several days in which the White House has reviewed the report of bureau investigators, and after inquires about its contents this morning by The New York Times, the officials made clear that they had shared Carns’ view that there was no option but for him but to step aside.
In the 30-minute interview Friday evening, Carns, who accepted responsibility for mistakes but spoke bitterly about what he termed outrageous accusations made by Runas, described the problems as the result of a good deed gone awry.
He said that he had tried to help the young man escape poverty in the Philippines and that he and his wife had treated Runas as if he were a family member.
Runas, the nephew of the Carnses’ housekeeper in the Philippines, lived with the family for six years on military bases there and in Hawaii and Washington, D.C.
He left the Carns household after a falling out in the summer of 1992, according to Carns, who said he has not seen him since the autumn of that year.
Through a lawyer, Runas, who is now in his early 30s, has declined to comment.
Runas joined the Carns household eight years ago, when the general was the commander of the 13th Air Force at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
He was the nephew of their housekeeper, and had already been living along with the housekeeper and other domestic employees in the Philippine governmentprovided home when the Carnses moved in.
Carns said Friday night that he agreed to the young man’s request to be allowed to accompany the family, first to Hawaii from 1987 to 1989 and then on to Washington, to help him escape Runas’ “dead-end status.”
The immigration and labor laws governing the admission of foreigners like Runas impose strict conditions on employers, and as Carns said Friday night, he had come to recognize that he and his wife met few or none of them.
When Runas’ visa was about to expire in 1991, Carns said he had urged him to return to the Philippines. But after the eruption of the Mount Pinatubo volcano in June of that year wreaked great devastation on the Philippine city to which Runas was to return, Carns said he agreed to seek an extension.
But in the letter to the immigration service that won that extension, he said he had followed the recommendation of an official there and praised Runas’ skills as a worker, a statement that he said he has been told may also present a legal problem.
The final break between Carns and Runas came a year later, in July of 1992, after the general insisted that the young man leave after the extension of the visa expired.
Carns said Friday night that Runas had become enraged and was verbally abusive, but that an immigration official told him that there was little the agency could do to force his departure.
Carns said he had paid Runas more than $6,000 over the years as part of a promise to set aside a gift of $200 a month to provide him with a nest egg when he returned to the Philippines. He said he had also bought the young man a round-trip ticket to visit his home in 1989.
But after making a final payment to Runas in late 1992 under an agreement reached after he left the household in July, Carns said he had neither seen nor heard from the young man until he did so indirectly from the federal agents.
“I am really concerned that in the way we conduct today’s confirmation proceedings, one is innocent until nominated,” Carns said in the telephone interview Friday evening. “Moreover, you are then in a struggle to prove innocence. I think this is a really serious and growing deterrent to people being willing to serve.”