Anthony Lake, President Clinton’s beleaguered nominee to head the CIA, began his confirmation hearings Tuesday saying he had not been legally obligated to tell Congress about U.S. approval of secret Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia.
Lake’s failure to inform Congress about the policy in 1994 later angered many legislators, and now stands as one of a number of major obstacles to the Senate’s approval of his nomination.
Others include alleged financial irregularities, for which Lake was penalized $5,000 but cleared of illegal doing, and any role he may have had in the administration’s overseas campaign financing troubles.
Lake, 57, whose confirmation hearing has twice been postponed, finally faced the senators for the first of what are expected to be six days of hearings this week and next.
He is expected to gain Senate approval, but not before what Senate Select Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., called a thorough “examination.”
“There are a number of unanswered and disturbing questions that surround Anthony Lake’s nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Dan Coats, R-Ind., said in a statement.
“I am particularly concerned that in the Iranian-Bosnia situation the Congress was purposely kept in the dark … a habit, which if continued at the CIA, would be unacceptable.”
Lake, the president’s former national security adviser, told the Senate committee in prepared testimony that he had no apologies for the administration’s Iran-Bosnia policy, which came despite a Balkan arms embargo.
“Our decision was a tough one, but the right one,” he testified. “And it worked, helping to pave the way to the Dayton agreement. … I have no apologies for the policy. But I do appreciate that it would have been better to have informed key members of Congress on a discreet basis.
“At the same time, I must make it clear that I do not believe we were under a legal obligation to inform Congress,” he said. He argued that the approval was a diplomatic activity, not an intelligence move about which Congress had to be informed.
Lake added that the experience reinforced in him the need for Congress and the CIA to work together.