President Bush said Tuesday the allegations against John Tower have been "gunned down" by a thorough FBI report, and he called on the Senate to move swiftly to confirm the former senator as secretary of defense.
Fielding questions from reporters at the White House, Bush said he had personally reviewed the FBI background report on Tower."What I got from it was that there has been a very unfair treatment of this man by rumor and innuendo, over and over again rumors surfacing with no facts to back them up," he said.
Tower has been plagued by reports of womanizing and problem drinking and by questions about his financial ties to defense contractors. The Senate Armed Services Committee had postponed a vote on the nomination while the FBI report was being compiled and may decide Tuesday or Wednesday when to vote.
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had no immediate response to the president's declaration. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine told reporters he didn't know when the committee would act on the nomination but noted that the delay in the confirmation proceedings had been "at the request of the White House."
Mitchell also said it was "premature" to speculate about whether the Senate would hold a closed-door session to review the Tower file.
The FBI report was delivered on Monday to the White House, which forwarded it to the Senate committee.
"I hope that the Senate will move forthrightly on this nomination," the president said.
Published reports have said the FBI found that Tower drank excessively in the 1970s but no longer does so. Asked about that, and whether the former senator had undergone treatment, Bush replied:
"I say there is no evidence of any kind of disease of alcoholism. None. None whatsoever."
Tower's nomination has become the longest-running controversy in the early weeks of the new administration, and Bush went out of his way Tuesday to demonstrate support for his nominee at several turns.
"I've never wavered in my support for John Tower," he said.
"John Tower is qualified to be secretary of defense, he'll be a good secretary of defense . . . the allegations against him that have been hanging over this simply have been gunned down in terms of fact," Bush added.
With his appearance in the White House briefing room, the president gave his personal stamp to what his senior aides already had been telling reporters about the FBI report.
"It was very exhaustive; interviews with anybody and everybody," press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said of a 140-page report delivered to the White House on Monday and quickly hand-carried to Capitol Hill by the president's counsel, C. Boyden Gray.
"It did not corroborate the personal charges against the (former) senator, nor did it show any problems with illegal campaign contributions," said Fitzwater.