GOP Leaders Continue to Press Issue of Ambassador’s Burial at Arlington Cemetery

By Terry M. Neal and Stephen Barr Washington Post Staff Writers Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Republican leaders yesterday promised to keep pushing for an answer into why M. Larry Lawrence, the late ambassador to Switzerland, was allowed to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, even though his widow said Monday she plans to remove his body.

Also, congressional leaders of both parties were preparing a formal request to the General Accounting Office to review the process for granting waivers for burial at the cemetery, the nation's most hallowed ground for military burials, a congressional staff aide said.

Lawrence, a major Democratic donor, was one of 69 people in the last five years granted special waivers to be buried at the cemetery. The waiver was based in part on his claim that he served heroically on a Merchant Marine ship during World War II. But last week Republicans produced documents showing it was a fabrication.

Despite acknowledgment by Arlington's superintendent that Lawrence's status as an ambassador allowed his burial there, Lawrence's widow, Shelia Davis Lawrence, asked President Clinton to allow that his body be removed from the cemetery in hopes of ending the public controversy.

But Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs oversight and investigations subcommittee, said, “The subcommittee still has an interest in questions concerning the State Department's actions in the granting of the waiver for Mr. Lawrence.”

Typical of the confusion surrounding the waiver issue were revelations made yesterday by a former aide to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.). The aide, who asked not to be identified, said in an interview that Burton had used his influence to obtain a waiver for a young man who worked for him in the 1980s.

The man, John F. Mooney, died of cancer at age 25 in 1989. Mooney did not served in the military, but his father was a retired Army master sergeant. Burton's office confirmed yesterday he assisted the family in getting a waiver for Mooney to be buried at the future burial site of his father.

The former Burton aide, a Republican now in the private sector, revealed the information to make the point that political favoritism at Arlington is a bipartisan issue. “I'm just sickened by the politics of Washington,” the aide said. “I think it's just time to stop all of this vindictive stuff and get down to the important business of this country.”

A spokesman said Burton, who last month vowed to call for hearings if necessary on whether the White House traded plots at Arlington for political favors or donations, made no apologies for his action and said no comparison can be made to the Lawrence case.

“The guy worked for him for three years, and [Burton] watched him die,” said spokesman John Williams. “[Mooney's] father wanted to be buried there with him and [Burton] helped him.”

Army officials said they would not discuss the Mooney waiver or any of the other 68 burials that were authorized by the Army secretary or Clinton.

But Burton's intervention underscored what congressional aides said was widespread confusion over the use of waivers at Arlington.

It also underscored the political atmosphere in Congress. “The `gotcha' mentality pervading Washington this year is all about partisan politics and nothing to do with honoring our veterans, which should be the issue we're focusing on,” said Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D-Mass.), a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

American Legion commander Anthony G. Jordan said burial at the cemetery “should be restricted to people who die on active duty, to our most decorated veterans, to people who spent full careers in uniform and to those who left military service with lifelong disabilities.”

He said the Legion, the nation's largest veterans group, would work with Congress to reexamine eligibility rules for Arlington, particularly the issue of when exceptions should be made.

Army officials, asked yesterday whether any ambassadors had been denied a waiver for burial at Arlington, gave two examples and said their cases differed from Lawrence's because they did not die while serving in office. Lawrence died of cancer in 1996 at his official residence in Bern, Switzerland.

Army officials said no date had been set for the removal of Lawrence's body.

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