WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Robert M. Gates, who survived extraordinarily difficult confirmation hearings to become director of Central Intelligence a year ago, will retire next year, a spokesman for the CIA said yesterday.
In announcing Mr. Gates' plans, the spokesman, Peter Earnest, said: "The director expects to leave in January. If the new administration were to ask him to stay on for a short period of time to help with the overlap, he would be happy to cooperate."
Mr. Gates, who is traveling, was not available for comment on his plans to retire, which were first reported in yesterday's Washington Times.
During his brief tenure as director of the agency, Mr. Gates redefined the nation's intelligence needs for the next 15 years and tried to reorganize the unwieldy apparatus to make it more open and responsive to citizens.
But his tenure has been marred in recent weeks by a bitter and unusually public dispute between the CIA and the Justice Department over whether the intelligence agency cooperated jTC fully with a politically sensitive investigation of a multibillion-dollar bank fraud involving Iraq.
What the intelligence agency knew about the fraud, when it knew it and whether it passed the information on to the Justice Department have become the focus of several investigations into the government's handling of one of the largest bank scandals in history.
Although associates of Mr. Gates adamantly denied yesterday that the agency's handling of the inquiry had been a factor in his decision, the resulting turmoil makes it politically impossible for the Clinton administration to keep him on.
Unlike most other presidential appointees, the director of Central Intelligence is supposed to be politically neutral, providing the president with unbiased intelligence assessments regardless of administration policy.
In that sense, it would have been possible for President-elect Bill Clinton to ask Mr. Gates to stay on.