Robert Gates, President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, appears likely to win easy confirmation - an indication that the Iran-Contra arms and money affair has run out as a political issue.
At least one liberal senator called Gates, whose nomination for the intelligence post in 1987 was withdrawn, "a controversial choice" and promised extended confirmation hearings. But few others seemed to have the stomach to dredge up the past."He's pretty well liked up here" on Capitol Hill, said Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz. "He's friendly. He makes a good impression."
There will be Senate hearings on Gates' nomination to head the nation's lead spy agency, said Intelligence Committee Chairman David Boren, D-Okla. And questions about Gates' role in the Iran-Contra affair are sure to come up.
But there seemed to be a pervasive weariness with the matter when senators were asked Tuesday how they felt about Gates' nomination.
"People want to put it away," said DeConcini.
The White House apparently sensed that reluctance when it took extensive soundings of Intelligence Committee members beginning last week.
National security adviser Brent Scowcroft, Gates' current boss, called senators and offered glowing accounts of Gates' performance during the Persian Gulf war and at the same time listened for signs of hostility.
Bush told reporters he had "absolutely no qualms whatsoever" about Gates' nomination to succeed retiring William Webster when asked if he was concerned it would afford Congress an opportunity to reopen its Iran-Contra inquiries.
But DeConcini and fellow committee Democrats Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio said they would have plenty of questions to ask about Gates' role in preparing false congressional testimony for then-CIA Director William Casey.
"I am surprised and disappointed that President Bush has made such a controversial choice," Metzenbaum said.
The issue of Casey's testimony dominated Gates' CIA confirmation hearings four years ago, eventually forcing his nomination to be withdrawn.
Gates was deputy to Casey at the time of the deal that sent arms to Iran in hopes of freeing American hostages and generated profits used to clandestinely aid Nicaragua's Contra rebels.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who was Gates' chief critic then, said it's now time to look to the future.
"I believe Iran-Contra has been investigated enough. . . . We are not likely to learn anything new," said Specter, who no longer sits on the Intelligence Committee. "My real concerns turn on what is going to happen from here on," he said, adding that Gates' past performance is relevant only insofar as it might predict future behavior.
Others said they will be more interested in Gates' ideas for restyling intelligence collection in the new world of superpower accommodation and Third World instability, where assessing economies may become more important than counting tanks.
Gates already has the support of Boren, who called him "an extremely able and non-partisan professional." Intelligence Committee Democrats Sam Nunn of Georgia and Alan Cranston of California also have made supportive statements.