Report Says Arlington Allegations Untrue
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 28) -- A report released Wednesday by the General Accounting Office found no evidence that large Democratic contributors received waivers from the normal restrictions for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in exchange for political contributions.
"We found no evidence in the records we reviewed to support recent media reports that political contributions have played a role in waiver decisions," said Richard L. Hembra, the GAO's assistant comptroller general.
The GAO presented the report to the House Veterans Affairs Committee's oversight subcommittee. Democrats and Republicans alike on the committee called for the GAO to conduct an independent investigation of the waiver process. Their requests were in response to charges by conservatives that big Democratic donors were receiving waivers for burial at Arlington.
The GAO is Congress' watchdog agency, widely regarded as conducting high-quality and non-partisan analysis.
Democrats asked the GAO to specifically look into whether donations paved the way for waivers into Arlington. Subcommittee chairman Terry Everett (R-Ala.) wrote a separate letter requesting a study of the entire process by which normal qualifications for burial are waived.
The GAO said that waivers requested by presidents or members or Congress had been motivated by a desire to help constituents or a belief that the person merited burial in Arlington.
Under questioning by Everett, Hembra said the GAO did not look at Federal Election Commission records on campaign contributions, but rather only looked at Army records of waivers.
Everett said the records the GAO examined would not answer the questions about the possible influence of political contributions on the waiver process.
"The GAO report did not look at any Democratic donor lists or Republican donor lists," Everett said. "There is no way political donations were listed in the burial files at Arlington," he added.
Ranking minority member James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said that the GAO report should put the matter to rest.
"We have no reason to believe that decisions were made for anything but humanitarian reasons," Clyburn said.
The GAO report pointed out that in the absence of formal rules for the waiver process, some people are told about the possibility of waivers and other go away empty-handed and uninformed. It also said that when government officials make the request or support a request "the waiver process can be vulnerable to influence."
In November, Army Secretary Togo West released the names of those who had received waivers for burial at Arlington. The only big donor on the list was Larry Lawrence.
Lawrence died in 1996 while serving as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. He received a waiver for burial based on his ambassadorial service and his claim to have served in the Merchant Marine in 1945 and to have been wounded during that duty.
Following the determination that Lawrence had never served in the Merchant Marine, his widow had his body exhumed and reburied in San Diego.
Another waiver recipient was the father of a Republican staff member of a House subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon.
Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) said he plans to introduce legislation banning waivers.
Everett called on President Bill Clinton to revoke the waiver already granted to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to be buried at Arlington.
"Each time a waiver is granted, a qualified eligible veteran loses his slot at Arlington," Everett said.