Republican leaders Tuesday promised to keep pushing for an answer to 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 past 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. However, 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 controversy.
However, 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.”
Also Tuesday, a former aide to Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., 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 serve in the military, but his father was a retired Army master sergeant. Burton’s office confirmed Tuesday 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, now in the private sector, said he 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,” he 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.
Burton’s intervention underscored what congressional aides said was widespread confusion over waivers at Arlington.
It also underscored the political atmosphere. “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.”