WASHINGTON STAFF WRITER KAREN HOSLER CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton, faced with new and potentially damaging questions about his draft record, last night vehemently denied he had sought or received special treatment.
The questions stemmed from news reports that the Democratic nominee's uncle had lobbied to keep Mr. Clinton from being called up during the Vietnam War.
Mr. Clinton, who previously said he "never received any unusual or favorable treatment" to avoid induction, denied knowledge of the reported lobbying efforts. "It's all news to me," he said while campaigning Tuesday night in Maryland.
"I have told the truth about my draft status," he said, referring to past statements, including a speech last week to the American Legion in which he said he was going to "set the record straight" about his draft record but did not mention a lobbying effort by his uncle.
However, last night he made his most forceful denial.
"It's absolutely not true," Mr. Clinton told reporters following a speech to a Hispanic group in Washington. "I find it amazing that you could still be asking me questions, coming from Republicans who were opposed to me . . . based on their memories of 23 years ago."
Exasperated and obviously irritated, Mr. Clinton said: "I've told you everything I know."
He was dogged during the primaries last winter and spring by accusations that he manipulated the Selective Service system to avoid induction. He was also criticized for making what seemed to be incomplete and inconsistent statements about his draft record.
The latest allegations about Mr. Clinton's draft history were first reported in yesterday's editions of the Los Angeles Times.
Republicans quickly pounced.
"Governor Clinton has a credibility problem," Vice President Dan Quayle told CBS-TV yesterday in Kansas City, Mo. "He is going to have to come clean with the American people. He has to answer these questions."
The Times' story focused on the efforts of Raymond Clinton, Mr. Clinton's now deceased uncle, to enable his nephew to pursue overseas study at a time when he faced probable induction and possible service in the
Vietnam War, which the young Mr. Clinton opposed.
The story was based largely on information supplied by Henry M. Britt, who was Raymond Clinton's attorney and who said he helped the uncle in his lobbying efforts. Corroboration was provided by a retired Naval Reserve officer and a former %J Republican member of Mr. Clinton's draft board, the Times said.
Neither the retired officer nor Mr. Britt, who ran for governor of Arkansas as a Republican in 1960, had made public statements before about Mr. Clinton's draft record and were described by the Times as being reluctant to do so.
A Clinton adviser, commenting anonymously about these sources, said: "I don't think people are going to put much credence in a Republican hack trying to put words in the mouth of a dead man 60 days before the election."
According to the story, Raymond Clinton lobbied the head of Mr. Clinton's draft board in Hot Springs, Ark., as well as Lt. Cmdr. Trice Ellis Jr., commanding officer of the local Naval Reserve unit. At the time, Bill Clinton was completing his education at Georgetown University, had won a Rhodes Scholarship to study in Oxford, England, and had been classified 1-A, eligible for the draft, which put his Oxford plans in jeopardy.
Mr. Ellis confirmed that he helped arrange an enlistment slot, or billet, for Bill Clinton in the Naval Reserve. Though Mr. Clinton did not accept the assignment, the story said, the lobbying effort evidently helped him delay his pre-induction physical for 10 1/2 months, enabling him to enroll at Oxford University in the fall of 1968.
The Times said an examination of Selective Service records showed that Mr. Clinton was the only man of prime draft age whose physical was delayed so long. Although Mr. Clinton said he was unaware of the lobbying effort, Mr. Britt told the Times: "Of course he knew about it."
Later, Mr. Clinton signed up for an ROTC unit at the University of Arkansas, although he never followed through. This fact and another -- that Mr. Clinton had received an induction notice in the spring of 1969, before applying to the ROTC -- were disclosed in news articles in February and April.