Congressman Finds `Coincidences' in Clinton's Honorees, Campaign Contributors
A Republican congressman said yesterday that he is investigating whether M. Larry Lawrence, who died last year while serving as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, was given a burial plot in Arlington National Cemetery because he had made sizable contributions to the Democratic Party.
“This is another of those coincidences that have been very common in the Clinton administration,” said Rep. Terry Everett of Alabama.
Everett is chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which for the past six months has been looking into Arlington burials. He said his examination has found 10 cases of otherwise unqualified persons granted permission for Arlington burials that he considers “questionable.”
“Three or four are well-known individuals,” Everett said, adding that one of them is still alive. Everett said he would release the names “in the near future” after his staff has finished verifying that the people are not eligible for Arlington honors.
Lawrence and his family and companies gave about $200,000 to Democrats between 1991 and 1996, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
At the Pentagon, Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. denied “categorically, without qualification, and forcefully” that any burial requests were granted for political reasons.
“I am the responsible person,” he said. “Just not done. Not possible.”
West defended the exception given to Lawrence, saying there was “nothing about that case that would have excited suspicion.”
“Neither I, and I believe no one operating under my supervision anywhere within the chain, knew of his role as a contributor,” West said. “This is one of the cases in which everyone along the line, including the [Arlington] superintendent and staff, recommended approval of that request.”
Despite their protests that there was no wrongdoing, Pentagon officials refused to release the names of the 69 people who have been given special permission for burial in Arlington during the Clinton administration and who would not otherwise have qualified.
The administration has identified five of the 69 as Lawrence; former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who died in 1993; Elvera Burger, who died in 1994, a year before her husband, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger; an unnamed Drug Enforcement Administration agent who had served in the Army and was killed during an undercover mission in Peru; and D.C. homicide detective Henry J. Daly, a former Marine killed in a shootout at police headquarters in 1994.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, wrote to President Clinton yesterday to say that he has been “inundated with requests to investigate the alleged granting of burial plots at Arlington and other national cemeteries in exchange for contributions to the Democratic National Committee.” Specter said he planned hearings.
Clinton's administration has granted a record number of waivers for burial to people who otherwise would not qualify — 69 in five years, more than some presidents granted in eight.
Pentagon officials yesterday revised the number of waivers granted to the 69 figure, up from the 61 announced on Wednesday.
West said the number was higher than in previous administrations because the cemetery had been receiving a “far greater” number of requests than in the past.
Arlington, the most sacred resting place for veterans since it opened in 1864, is rapidly filling and is expected to have no more space by 2020.
Army officials said that of the 69 exceptions to the rules, nine were over the objection of the cemetery's superintendent, John Metzler. The final decision can be made by West or the president. The superintendent would not comment.
Lawrence, operator of the famed Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, was for decades a generous benefactor to Democratic candidates and committees. He was a close friend of Clinton, and the two sometimes vacationed together.
Clinton nominated Lawrence to be ambassador to Switzerland in 1993, and he won confirmation in early 1994. Shortly after, Lawrence agreed to pay a $7,179 fine to the Federal Election Commission for exceeding limits on campaign contributions.
After a long fight with cancer, Lawrence died in 1996 at the age of 69, at his official residence in Bern.
At the White House yesterday, press secretary Michael McCurry said Lawrence had served in the merchant marine “during World War II on a ship that was torpedoed, or at least suffered some kind of attack.”
McCurry said suggestions of politicization of Arlington burials had “no basis in fact,” and he said he was concerned about treating “the absurd as something that is worthy of comment.”
He said the Army was not releasing the names of the people who had been granted exceptions during the Clinton administration because of “concern for privacy and not identifying the names of people, many of whom are spouses of people who are already buried at Arlington.”
Staff writers Bradley Graham and Al Kamen contributed to this report.
INTERNMENT IN ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Eligibility for burial at Arlington National Cemetery is governed by extensive rules, and exceptions must be approved by the president or the Secretary of the Army. The general criteria:
Those who have died on active duty.
Those having at least 20 years of active duty or active reserve service which qualified them for retired pay either upon retirement or at age 60, and those retired for disability.
Veterans honorably discharged with certain degrees of disability before Oct. 1, 1949.
Holders of the nation's highest military decorations (Medal of Honor; Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross or Navy Cross; Distinguished Service Medal; and Silver Star) or the Purple Heart.
Certain prisoners of war who died after Nov. 29, 1993.
The spouse or unmarried minor child (under 21) of any of the above, or any person already buried in Arlington. An unmarried dependent student qualifies up to age 23.
An eligible person's unmarried adult child who has physical or mental disability acquired before age 21.
A veteran who is the parent, brother, sister or child of an eligible person already interred (Interment must be in the same grave as the eligible person, the veteran's spouse must waive his or her eligibility for Arlington, and the veteran can have no dependent children at the time of death).
Not eligible (unless an exception is granted):
Parents, brothers, sisters or in-laws of an eligible person, even if they are dependents of the person.
Remarried widow or widower of an eligible person, unless the widow or widower is no longer married at death.
A person whose last discharge was less-than honorable.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard