KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine -- President Bush delivered a impassioned defense yesterday of his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, charging that fainthearted senators running for political cover are unfairly considering Robert M. Gates "guilty until proven innocent."
Mr. Bush called on the Senate to confront any concerns about Mr. Gates' role in the Iran-contra affair but not to let the nomination be scuttled by allegations and innuendoes. "I really feel strong about this," Mr. Bush said. "I just don't think it's the American way to bring a good man down by rumor and insinuation. That's not the system."
The nomination of Mr. Gates, Mr. Bush's deputy national security zTC adviser, has been jeopardized by renewed attention to the Iran-contra affair. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had tentatively scheduled hearings on the nomination to begin Monday, but on Thursday it announced an indefinite postponement.
Mr. Gates was deputy director of the CIA during the height of the Iran-contra affair, but he has consistently said that he was kept in the dark about the operation. Alan D. Fiers, a former CIA official, pleaded guilty Tuesday to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-contra affair. Mr. Fiers implicated one of his superiors, and others are under investigation.
Mr. Bush was walking toward his house after seeing off Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu when reporters asked him about Mr. Gates. The president stopped, turned around, headed back to the cameras and delivered a heated, rambling defense of Mr. Gates.
"What have we come to in this country where a man has to prove his innocence against some fluid, movable charge?" Mr. Bush said. He called on the Senate to avoid "pusillanimity, faintheartedness" and not to let Mr. Gates' nomination hang in limbo for months, hoping it would be withdrawn.
"You hear a rumor and then you run for cover, get under the bush like a quail and hope that you don't get flushed out for a
while. That's not what this is about. We've got a man's honor and integrity on the line here," Mr. Bush said.