Webster Agrees to Review Senate Testimony of CIA Deputy Director Gates
WASHINGTON (AP) _ CIA director-designate William Webster reluctantly agreed Thursday to review in the next week and a half the Senate testimony of CIA deputy director Robert M. Gates on the Iran-Contra affair to determine if Gates should remain at the CIA.
The request came from Senate Intelligence Committee member Arlen Specter, R-Pa., during Webster’s confirmation hearing to become CIA director.
Specter asked FBI Director Webster whether he feels Gates should step down in light of the fact that he helped then-CIA director William Casey prepare what many in Congress say was Casey’s misleading testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last November.
In another development, The New York Times reported Friday that Webster urged Attorney General Edwin Meese III to disqualify himself from the investigation of the Iran-Contra affair last November.
The newspaper quoted unidentified administration officials as saying Webster suggested that Meese ″recuse″ himself because he had helped prepare Reagan’s secret authorization of the arms sales to Iran in January 1986. That action could have made Meese a possible witness in the investigation.
Webster acted after Meese disclosed on Nov. 25 that money from U.S. arms sales to Iran had been diverted to the Nicaraguan rebels.
Terry Eastland, a Justice Department spokesman, told the newspaper that in the week after Meese’s disclosure he and Webster discussed the investigation and in the course of the talks ″the subject of recusal had come up.″
But Eastland said he was not aware Webster had sought to exert any influence on Meese and that when Meese sought the appointment of an independent counsel in mid-December he had effectively removed himself.
On Thursday, Specter told Webster that his confirmation hearings likely will be held over until after Congress returns from the Easter recess the week of April 19. In the meantime, said Specter, he wants Webster to review Gates’ testimony which brought out the deputy CIA director’s participation in preparing for Casey’s congressional appearance.
″Senator, I don’t want to, but if you insist, I’ll review the testimony,″ replied Webster. The FBI director said he doesn’t know if Gates’ testimony to the committee is sufficient to determine whether Gates should remain at the CIA.
″I can’t guarantee that I would want to express an opinion on that narrow a record,″ Webster added.
″I would appreciate if you would because ... I think it is ... really the crux of the matter as to appropriate disclosure by the CIA,″ replied Specter.
″I am very interested in your response to that question because I think it’s very important as to the continued service of deputy director Gates,″ Specter told Webster at one point.
Specter said that Gates helped Casey prepare testimony that omitted a number of important facts about the Iran-Contra affair.
Casey testified four days before Meese’s disclosure of the arms sales and diversion of funds.
Casey had been told in October that money from Iranian arms sales might have been diverted to the Contra rebels, but he did not mention this to the committee. Specter pointed to three other omissions from Casey’s testimony, including the fact that a key arms dealer in the weapons sales to Iran, Manucher Ghorbanifar, had flunked two polygraph examinations.
The senator also noted that Casey omitted mentioning that the CIA supplied transportation for a November 1986 weapons shipment to Iran without a written finding from President Reagan; and that when Reagan did sign a finding on Jan. 17, 1986, it was made retroactively to cover the CIA’s involvement in providing transportation for the shipment two months previously.
Committee chairman David Boren, D-Okla., disagreed with Specter’s suggestions that Gates perhaps should not remain at the agency, saying Gates ″has performed in an outstanding fashion and is continuing to render outstanding and very candid service.″
Gates has denied that either he or the agency had tried to cover up CIA participation in the Iran arms deal when the agency prepared congressional testimony for Casey last November.
″I did not know″ during the period leading up to the Nov. 21 Casey appearance ″many of the facts of CIA’s role, and while coordinating the effort, did not participate in drafting the testimony,″ Gates wrote to Boren.
Casey made many changes in the prepared testimony himself just before going to Capitol Hill, Gates wrote.
Later Thursday, Boren emerged from a closed-door session between Webster and the intelligence panel to announce that a committee vote on Webster’s confirmation would be likely in two to three weeks.
Boren said ″nothing new was raised″ in the closed session ″that would cast any question″ on confirming Webster.
On March 2, President Reagan withdrew the nomination of then-acting CIA director Gates to head the spy agency. His nomination was in jeopardy of being rejected by the Senate and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he had become a ″lightning rod″ for discontent with the administration’s handling of the Iran-Contra affair.