November 20, 1997 in Nation/World

White House Denies Trading Arlington Plots For Money Sourceless Story Says Burial Sites Offered In Exchange For Contributions

David Goldstein Knight-Ridder
 

The Clinton administration denied allegations Wednesday from a conservative publication that it sold burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery in exchange for campaign contributions.

White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis called the allegations “scurrilous and untrue.”

The charges, which received wide circulation Wednesday on conservative talk radio, appear in a story to be published next week in Insight magazine. The magazine is published by The Washington Times, a conservative newspaper that has been strongly anti-Clinton in its tone and editorials.

The story names neither sources nor persons who allegedly requested the burial plots in return for political donations.

“It would be outrageous for anyone to grant or influence the granting of exceptions under the rules for burial at national cemeteries because of political or fund-raising considerations,” David said in a statement released Wednesday evening.

“Neither the president nor anyone at the White House ever made such a recommendation based on such considerations. It is based on anonymous sources and innuendo, not the facts.”

The Army also issued a strong denial.

“Allegations that exceptions for burial at Arlington National Cemetery are being granted for political considerations, or worse, for political contributions, are untrue, and a disservice to the American military men and women, past and present,” the service said.

Space at Arlington is tight. Burial there is limited largely to members of the armed forces and veterans discharged under honorable and other exceptional conditions, including former prisoners of war. It is also open to spouses of eligible persons, their widows or widowers, and their children in certain circumstances.

Federally elected officials and Supreme Court justices also can be buried in Arlington. Since last June, the Republican Congress has been raising questions about waivers of burial rules at Arlington and more than 100 other national cemeteries. But the inquiry by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has not raised the issue of the selling of burial plots for political contributions.

Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., chairman of the subcommittee, issued a statement this week saying that some “questionable waivers” had been granted in recent years.

One official whose burial in Arlington might draw criticism from Republicans is Larry Lawrence, a wealthy California businessman who contributed generously to Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He died early this year while serving as ambassador to Switzerland, and was buried in Arlington after receiving a waiver from the secretary of the Army.

White House officials said Wednesday that Lawrence served in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was buried in Arlington after his death in a Bosnian plane crash in 1996.

The Insight story alleges the White House and Democratic Party officials obtained waivers from the Department of Defense for otherwise ineligible people to be interred at Arlington.

It also claims that burial plots at Arlington were “sold” not only for recently deceased persons, but also for future rights to interment, regardless of the person’s “status as a veteran.”

The story does not name persons who allegedly requested the waivers in exchange for political donations. It also alleges that Secretary of the Army Togo West was among the administration officials who approved the waivers.

The author of the story, Paul M. Rodriguez, could not be reached for comment.

Subcommittee spokesman Danny Devine said Everett was not interested in the charges raised by the magazine, but “is concerned that the integrity of the cemetery is under question.”

The subcommittee found that the Clinton administration had approved more than 60 waivers during its four years, compared with 33 under President Bush, who served four years, 53 under President Reagan, who served eight years, and 17 under President Carter, who served four years.


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