Army secretary says no burial plots were exchanged for political donations
|"It's "just not
true" that plots at Arlington National Cemetery were handed out in exchange
for political contributions, Army Secretary Togo West said Thursday.
Still, some congressional Republicans have met the controversy with demands for investigations and for the list of names of those who received "exceptions."
The White House says it made available to Congress last June the names of the 63 individuals who received waivers allowing them to be buried at Arlington -- but for privacy reasons did not make them public.
The names are expected to be made public by the U.S. Army later today.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Thursday that Clinton should release the names of those to whom exceptions had been given. "If they refuse to release the names we will subpoena them," he said.
White House officials are especially angry at Gingrich's demand, given that they say the list has been in the hands of congressional Republicans for five months.
The current issue of Insight magazine, which is owned by the conservative Washington Times, says in a thinly sourced article, "Clinton and Co. may have 'sold' not only burial plots for recently deceased but also future rights."
At issue are the 58 "exceptions" approved by West and four granted by Clinton since he took office for people who ordinarily would not have qualified for burial at Arlington.
The cemetery, just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial and within sight of the Pentagon, is considered by some to be the nation's most sacred spot -- where veterans and those soldiers who die on active duty are interred. Exceptions can be made for others "based on their service to America," said West.
But he said unequivocally, "There have been no considerations of (political) contributions in making determinations about any of the 60 or so exceptions that are attributed to my stewardship, and I am certain that that has been the policy historically.
"It's not a factor at all. It's simply not considered. It is not known" what, if anything, an individual contributed, West said.
One of the exceptions granted was to the late ambassador to Switzerland Larry Lawrence, who was also a major contributor to the Democratic Party and to the 1992 Clinton campaign. The White House says Lawrence qualified as a veteran of the merchant marine.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) says the charges "may be totally fallacious. ... But I do know there is a hue and cry out there for the facts." He said his office had been "inundated" by people demanding an investigation.
Alabama GOP Rep. Spencer Bachus also joined in the chorus. "Given the administration's record in military affairs, the burden of proof lies completely with your office," he wrote in a letter to West on Thursday.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry called the allegations "absurd."
"This is a story that appeared, largely uncorroborated, with anonymous sources, in a conservative right-wing publication. It was picked up on the hate-radio talk circuit and inflamed yesterday," he said.
"Sitting here and denying or clarifying or amplifying treats the absurd as something that is worthy of comment. And I don't know that I want to do that."