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Ralston withdraws name from consideration

General was candidate to lead joint chiefs

June 9, 1997
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT)

Latest developments:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who admitted to an adulterous affair, withdrew his name from consideration Monday for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Ralston made his decision after spending much of the day reviewing his chances in meetings with Defense Secretary William Cohen and Capitol Hill leaders.

Ralston expresses regret

"This is solely my decision and I make it with a sense of regret," Ralston said in a statement.

"The regret is not for me personally because I never sought the office and have been, and continue to be, fully engaged in my current job as vice chairman.

"My regret is that the public discussion surrounding my potential nomination blurred the facts in a number of recent cases and gave the appearance of a double-standard regarding military justice," he said. "I don't believe that there is a double-standard."

Ralston's past caught up with him while he was visiting former Soviet republics in Central Asia last week. Ralston admitted he had an affair for about a year with a civilian woman while he was estranged from his wife 13 years ago.

The affair began while the general and the woman, an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, were students at the Pentagon's National War College. Ralston was separated from his wife at the time, and they divorced in 1988.

When Cohen said he thought the affair wasn't enough to keep Ralston from the top military post, critics accused the Pentagon of a double standard, saying others -- such as Air Force 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn -- were singled out and penalized for their sexual scandals.

Just last month Flinn -- the Air Force's first woman bomber pilot -- resigned to avoid a court martial on adultery and other charges, including lying to investigators.

High praise from high quarters

Ralston arrives

Ralston retained public respect and support among top political and military leaders even after his announcement.

President Clinton said Monday he respects Ralston's decision and was pleased he would remain vice chairman.

"For 32 years, in war and peace, General Ralston has served our nation with uncommon distinction," Clinton said in a statement. "The Joint Chiefs and our country will benefit from his continued service."

"Nobody likes to see these kinds of things happen," said one senior official, adding that Ralston has a "tremendous reputation" and served the military "with distinction" for many years.

Cohen said he respected Ralston's decision to withdraw his name, though he still thought the general was "fully qualified" to be chairman.

"General Ralston believes that a prolonged fight for Senate confirmation would be harmful to his family and would be a distraction from other serious national security issues," Cohen's statement said.

Ralston to stay on as vice chairman

Cohen said Ralston had agreed to continue in his current post of vice chairman, a job he has held since March 1996. His term expires in February.

Shalikashvili

The current Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. John Shalikashvili, said Ralston's decision "makes this a very sad day for me." Ralston currently is Shalikashvili's deputy.

Describing Ralston as "a consummate professional," Shalikashvili added, "Over the past year and a half, he has been my most trusted adviser and a most valued friend. His service as vice chairman has been superb."

Cohen has already started reviewing other candidates to recommend to the president to succeed Shalikashvili when he steps down this fall. There are said to be several names under consideration for the nation's highest military post.

Correspondents Wolf Blitzer and Carl Rochelle and Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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