White House angrily denies Arlington burial charges

By Charles Aldinger

The White House on Friday accused conservative critics of spreading “lies” about waivers granted by President Bill Clinton and Army Secretary Togo West to bury civilians in Arlington National Cemetery.

“Shame for infuriating our veterans,” added West at a Pentagon news conference of allegations in a conservative magazine that “fat-cat” donors to Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were approved for burial in the nation's elite military cemetery.

Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry spoke to reporters at the White House as West released a list of 69 burial waivers granted since 1993, four by Clinton and most of the others by West.

“Not only the president but, I think, everyone who works here is outraged that members of Congress would assist in the dissemination of lies, distortions, baseless allegations,” McCurry told reporters.

West said all of those buried under the waivers — similar to those granted by former presidents and Army secretaries — were either veterans, members of their families or civilians who had never been in the military but deserved the honor through special service to the country.

Clinton's waivers were to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Mrs. Elvera Burger, widow of retired Chief Justice Warren Burger; Washington, D.C., policeman and Marine Corps veteran Henry Daly, who was killed in the line of duty, and Drug Enforcement Administration agent J.W. Seale, an Army veteran killed on a mission in Peru.

Republicans in Congress, including Chairman Arlen Specter of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, have demanded that Clinton expain the exemptions.

“Ashamed!” snapped McCurry when asked how Specter should feel. “And I would suggest that shame ought to extend to people who failed to report and make editorial judgments about whether they want to pursue stories before they put them in print and put them on the air, too.”

West and McCurry responded separately to questions about a report that appeared in the conservative magazine Insight which said “Burial plots in the national war cemeteries, including Arlington, allegedly have been ‘bought' by fat-cat donors to Clinton's re-election committee and the DNC (Democratic National Committee) who aren't even veterans.”

The list released by West included the name of Larry Lawrence of San Diego, a former major contributor to the Clinton campaign.

But West pointed out Lawrence died while he was U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and had been wounded when he served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.

“This nation honors him then and we still live with what he did in service to America,” said West, who denied flatly that he ever knew or cared whether anybody who was granted a waiver was also a political contributor or even a Democrat.

“We've seen this for five years now,” said McCurry of conservative attacks. “It's the hate machine that basically figures out a way to get stuff into the mainstream discussion by using various avenues, and you laugh at us when we make the suggestion.”

“We just had a perfect case history of how this works,” he said.

Some Republicans in Congress have raised questions about nine waivers granted by West over recommendations by cemetery advisers. But he said on Friday that he made proper personal decisions in those cases.

One included his approval of Arlington burial for World War II Coast Guard veteran Warren Parks, a descendant of three generations of slaves who were buried in the cemetery.

Another was for Hart Mankin, an Air Force veteran and former judge on the Court of Veterans Appeals, who helped write the 26th Amendment to the Constitution.

That amendment lowered the voting age in the United States to 18.

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