No, No, Sununu

June 20, 1991

White House chief of staff John Sununu has an "appearance problem." The source of this revelation is President Bush who, in an earlier response to Mr. Sununu's penchant for cost-free travel on personal business, said he wanted to avoid even "the appearance of impropriety."

On that occasion, the president barred his top aide from using U.S. military aircraft, at taxpayer expense, to fly off to skiing vacations, dental appointments and other unofficial missions. So the ingenious Mr. Sununu opted for another form of transport. Last week he took a White House limousine to New York, again at taxpayer expense, to attend a stamp auction where he spent $5,000 on his collection. So much for his oft-proclaimed poverty and lack of time for pleasant pursuits.

But that's not all. Again doing things his way, he sent the limo back empty from a Republican fund-raiser in northern New Jersey and hopped a corporate jet to D.C. paid for by the Beneficial Corp. of Peapack, N.J., a company that reportedly is vigorously opposing administration proposals to overhaul the banking industry.

Such conflict-of-interest flights became legal in 1988 as a result of a Bush-backed provision of the 1989 Ethics Reform Act. No one can ever again say this administration lacks a sense of humor.

What some of its officials lack is a sense of the aforementioned appearance and propriety. They can't get it through their puffed-up egos that Sununu-type behavior is demeaning to the United States of America and to the president for whom they supposedly stand.

Mr. Sununu, a fellow who delights in his own arrogance, is typically brushing off the whole controversy. After flying to Iowa in another corporate-provided jet, this one courtesy of the Kirke-Van Ordel insurance company of Des Moines, he told GOP fat cats "how nice it is to get out of Washington to see real people in hometown America." He would rather talk to them, he said, than "self-styled experts" in the nation's capital who deigned to raise eyebrows about his shenanigans. While Mr. Sununu apparently was sniping at the press, he might have had some unkind thoughts for unknowns within the White House entourage who keep leaking information about his traveling habits.

Actually, if this keeps up Mr. Sununu might have more time to "get out of Washington and see real people" than he wants.

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