Sununu News: Just a Ramblin' Man With an 'Appearance Problem'

June 23, 1991|By RICK HOROWITZ | RICK HOROWITZ,Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist.

The story so far:

May: Embarrassed by reports of frequent personal and political trips on military aircraft, President Bush orders White House counsel Boyden Gray to review chief of staff John Sununu's travels. Mr. Gray says, in essence, that Sununu's trips were perfectly legal, but don't do it again.

June: Denied easy access to government jets, Mr. Sununu takes a chauffeur-driven government limousine to New York, where he spends $5,000 at a rare-stamp auction, then flies back to Washington on a corporate jet. "Given the circumstances," says President Bush, "I think it was appropriate." But, says the president, "I recognize, and I think the governor does, there's an appearance problem."

The story from here:

July 1: Unable to use government jets, government limos or corporate jets, Mr. Sununu takes a corporate limo from Washington to his dentist's office in Boston. "I needed a cleaning," the chief of staff explains, insisting that he remained in close touch with the White House by phone throughout the 20-minute procedure. White House counsel Boyden Gray says that the trip falls "within existing standards," but suggests that those standards will soon be amended.

July 3: Unable to use government jets, government limos, corporate jets or corporate limos, Mr. Sununu commandeers a government sedan and driver to travel to Maryland's Eastern Shore for the holiday weekend. "I don't care what those self-styled experts say," Mr. Sununu declares, "even indispensable officials need to get out of Washington to see real people in hometown America." Mr. Sununu will be staying at a country estate made available by a top S&L executive.

Pressed for comment, President Bush says, "John is doing a first-class job. Next time he needs a break, he can use our place."

July 9: Now prohibited from using any sort of government or corporate aircraft or automobile, Mr. Sununu gets a corporate yacht to take him to Newport, R.I., for a few days of sailing. "Nobody said anything about yachts," says Mr. Sununu on arrival, stressing that he remained in close touch with the White House by ship-to-shore phone during his trip. "He's got a point there," says counsel Boyden Gray. "I'm not sure yachts are covered yet."

July 22: Mr. Sununu returns from sailing to find that marine vessels are off-limits to him, too. Undaunted, the chief of staff hops aboard a donated Amtrak club car and heads back to New York for a rare-books auction. "We may still have that 'appearance of impropriety' thing," says President Bush at an impromptu press conference.

July 28: Free rail travel denied him, Mr. Sununu is offered free use of a specially equipped Greyhound bus. He says he can't accept the offer, unless he gets unlimited mileage and a driver with a chauffeur's cap. Greyhound agrees to his demands, and Mr. Sununu leaves immediately for Vail, Colo., to check out possible skiing vacations for next winter. Says a frustrated President Bush, "It's being blown out of proportion. He's a good man getting a bum rap and he won the New Hampshire primary for me." Says Boyden Gray, "At the moment, it's probably legal."

August 10: A man believed to be Mr. Sununu is arrested in Akron, Ohio, after approaching several contestants preparing for the All-American Soap Box Derby. "He kept asking, 'How about a ride, kid? How about a ride?' says one of the youngsters who allegedly spoke with the embattled chief of staff. "I told him I was only going down the hill, but he said that was OK, as long as I was willing to drive."

President Bush, calling it a "day of personal sadness," says he's talked to Mr. Sununu and found him in good spirits. "He asked me to send him some books about the Iditarod Trail Race. I didn't even know he liked sled dogs."

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