updated 8/11/2004 4:53:31 PM ET 2004-08-11T20:53:31

President Bush’s nomination of Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., as the next director of the CIA could lead to tense confirmation hearings, with plenty of questions about the president’s national security record and goals, just weeks before the Nov. 2 election.

Even as some Democrats praised the nomination of Goss, who gave up his role Tuesday as chairman of the House intelligence committee, others criticized him as inappropriately partisan for a job that requires relaying objective advice to policy makers.

“You must keep the politics out of intelligence,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “I’m not sure that has been done here.”

“The selection of a politician — any politician from either party — is a mistake,” said John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. “Having independent, objective intelligence going to the president and the Congress is fundamental to America’s national security.”

Republicans defend Goss
The chairman of the Senate intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was mystified by complaints that Goss was partisan.

“You can disagree with somebody as to the issues from time to time; I don’t think that makes them partisan,” Roberts said. “I don’t consider him to be partisan. I’ve known him for 16 years. That’s not a word I would use to describe Porter.”

Appearing Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show, Roberts said “I think we’re all politicians in Congress” and said service in the national legislature should not be a disqualifying factor.

“We’re going to have hearings the first week of September. We’re going to try to expedite this. I think he will be confirmed,” he said. “The Democrats have questions. We’ll keep it civil.”

Appearing on the same program, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the intelligence committee, said: “I believe the White House may be playing this with a political angle. If they are, it’s unfortunate. We still have a responsibility, despite the elections, to ask the hard questions.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Goss “has shown not only the ability but the willingness to point out the failures that existed in our intelligence agencies prior to 9/11.”

Goss revealed Wednesday that while his nomination was pending, he was stepping down as chairman of the House intelligence panel to avoid any conflicts.

“I do believe it is appropriate to remain a member of the committee,” Goss told colleagues Wednesday morning at the outset of a hearing on the report of the Sept. 11 commission.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, D-N.Y., presided at the hearing, at which Sept. 11 commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton were testifying. “Let us hope that partisanship won’t rear its ugly head during the Senate proceedings,” Boehlert said of Goss’ pending confirmation hearings.

Bush moves quickly
In making the announcement Tuesday, Bush ignored advisers who had favored allowing Acting Director John E. McLaughlin to remain on the job until after the November elections.

Bush praised Goss, a former CIA officer, as someone who “knows the CIA inside and out” and said he was “the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation’s history.”

Goss is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with assets worth between $6 million and $24 million last year. His biggest holdings included $1 million to $5 million worth of shares each in IBM, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and General Electric Co.

Goss, 65, worked as a CIA officer overseeing spies in Central America and Western Europe during the 1960s until a mysterious infection forced his retirement. He rose in local and then national politics after his recovery.

He has never disclosed details of his CIA employment except to reveal that he worked in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico — all tumultuous countries during that decade of the Cold War.

Bush’s nomination of Goss could deflect criticism from the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, that the administration was not moving quickly enough to make important changes affecting the intelligence agencies. Among the proposals being worked out is creation of a national intelligence director.

Rumsfeld questions plans for director
The complexities of such reforms were underscored Tuesday when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested there are legitimate reasons against sharing too much information across U.S. intelligence agencies. Rumsfeld opposes creating a national intelligence chief, partly because the Defense Department controls more than 80 percent of the nation’s intelligence budget.

During a visit to Oman, Rumsfeld said that if classified intelligence was shared in too many places, it ran a greater risk of being leaked, either to foreign governments or to the public.

The CIA nomination could put Goss in line to become the United States’ first national intelligence director if Congress follows the Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations to create the position. The proposed director would oversee all 15 of the nation’s intelligence agencies and serve as the president’s chief intelligence adviser, a role now played by the CIA director.

“He could be this new person, if we go there,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, a member of the intelligence committee. “He’ll be someone who can walk in to the president and look him in the eye and tell him what the truth is and not flinch.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan would not rule out Goss’ being picked for national intelligence director or say whether Goss was a leading candidate. If Bush is not re-elected, Goss’ position could be short-lived, subject to the decision of the next president.

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