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Senate plans for December Gates hearing

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee says it can be ready to hold nomination hearings for the new defense secretary by the first week of December.

President George W. Bush last Wednesday announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He nominated Robert Gates, former CIA director under the first President Bush, to replace him.

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Rumsfeld has agreed to serve until a new secretary is confirmed.

"After consulting with Senate leadership and incoming Chairman (Carl Levin, D-Mich.) Chairman (John Warner, R- Va.) indicated today (Friday) that the Senate Armed Services Committee will be in a position to hold hearings on the nomination of Robert Gates to be secretary of defense beginning the first week in December," said committee spokesman John Ullyot.

Bush indicated he expects Rumsfeld to remain in office until at least Dec. 29, making him the longest serving defense secretary in U.S. history.

The December hearings are contingent on the Armed Services Committee receiving written responses to advance policy questions, and financial and security clearance information on Gates.

The policy questions are usually proforma, asking whether the nominee will share information with Congress and if they support various legislative initiatives. Then-nominee Donald Rumsfeld shocked the committee in early 2001 by refusing to answer a number of such questions, saying he had not yet studied them to his satisfaction.

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Gates is expected to face questions about his role in the Iran-Contra affair in 1986, in which Reagan administration officials illegally sold arms to Iran and secretly funneled the proceeds to the Contras, an anti-communist insurgent group in Nicaragua, hoping they would overthrow Daniel Ortega, the democratically elected president and leader of the communist Sandanista party.

As a member of the White House's national security council at the time, Gates was called to testify on what he knew about the deals. Gates said he did not recall learning about it until October 1986. The independent counsel had evidence that contradicted Gates' timeline but did not have sufficient evidence to indict him.

This week, Ortega was re-elected president of Nicaragua after 16 years out of office.

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