WASHINGTON – A little-known White House advisory board convinced a reluctant President Bush to launch yet another high-profile shakeup of the nation’s intelligence community and can CIA Director Porter Goss, sources said Saturday.
Bush had already gotten an earful from Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte on the shortcomings of Goss, but the final push came from the “very alarmed” President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, intelligence and Congressional sources said.
Alarms were set off at the advisory board by a widening FBI sex and cronyism investigation that’s targeted Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the No. 3 official at the CIA, and also touched on Goss himself.
The 16-member bipartisan board, now headed by former Goldman Sachs executive Stephen Friedman, has the mandate to conduct periodic assessments on “the quality, quantity and adequacy of intelligence collection.”
The board, which includes longtime Bush confidant and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, joined in the growing chorus inside and outside the CIA calling for Goss’ ouster, persuading Bush to act, sources said.
The result was the Oval Office announcement Friday at which neither Goss nor Bush gave a specific reason for Goss’ return to Florida. Goss told CNN Saturday his resignation was “just one of those mysteries.”
White House spokeswoman Dana Perrino said a “collective agreement” led to the decision to find a new CIA director, but “reports that the president had lost confidence in Porter Goss are categorically untrue.”
Bush was expected to name a new spy chief, possibly as early as today, with Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, Negroponte’s top deputy, and White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend heading up a short list.
But the spillover from the continuing FBI investigation, coupled with a parallel probe by the CIA’s inspector general, could impact on what were already expected to be difficult Senate confirmation hearings for the new director.
The investigations have focused on the Watergate poker parties thrown by defense contractor Brent Wilkes, a high-school buddy of Foggo’s, that were attended by disgraced former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham and other lawmakers.
Foggo has maintained he went to the parties “just for poker” amid allegations that Wilkes, a top GOP fund-raiser and a member of the $100,000 “Pioneers” of Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, provided prostitutes, limos and hotel suites to Cunningham.
Cunningham is serving an eight-year sentence after pleading to taking $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to cronies.
Wilkes hosted regular parties for 15 years at the Watergate and Westin Grand Hotels for lawmakers and lobbyists. Intelligence sources said Goss has denied attending the parties as CIA director, but that left open whether he may have attended as a Republican congressman from Florida who was head of the House Intelligence Committee.