Letter to Clinton seeks explanation for staff golf outing

May 26, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- David Watkins, a top aide to President Clinton, had one of those Kodak moments this week -- but one that could prove embarrassing to his boss.

It happened on Tuesday when photographer Skip Lawrence of the Frederick News-Post shot a picture of three men climbing into a presidential helicopter after a round of golf at Holly Hills Country Club near New Market.

Club pro Mike McGinnis had declined to identify his guests for the newspaper, so the photo ran with a caption identifying the men only as "White House aides" on a "mystery visit."

This caught the attention of Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Frederick, who demanded in a letter to President Clinton to know why three presidential aides were golfing on government time -- and why they needed a government helicopter to ferry them from Washington.

"While I am always happy to welcome out-of-towners to enjoy the recreational gems of Western Maryland, I am concerned by the appearance that the trip was simply a staff golfing outing at taxpayer expense," Mr. Bartlett said.

Mr. Bartlett's staff mailed the letter to the White House and faxed it to news organizations, including The Sun.

Asked yesterday about the golfing expedition, White House officials explained that it was necessitated by security concerns. Deputy White House press secretary Arthur Jones provided the following background:

* Details of every presidential trip, whether to church, a supermarket or a foreign capital, are worked out by security personnel.

* White House officials say that there are tentative plans for Mr. Clinton to play on a future visit to Camp David, near Thurmont. If he were to play Holly Hills, he'd probably arrive from Camp David by helicopter, requiring security officials to check out the travel plans in advance.

* Playing the course is not the frivolity that it seems, because it is necessary for security reasons to know the approximate time it would take Mr. Clinton to complete the round.

* Finally, the trip was a training mission for the Marine One helicopter crew, two of whom had never flown the route before.

"As people who follow this type of thing know, any and all presidential trips are advanced," said Mr. Jones. "They were representatives of the White House military office."

White House officials identified them as Alphonso Maldon Jr., head of the White House military office, and Navy Cmdr. Richard Cellon, the commanding officer at Camp David.

A third, nonmilitary official, was identified as Mr. Watkins. Why he was aboard was less clear. Officials offered the explanation that, as part of his job as head of the office of management and administration of the White House, he is the "liaison" to the military officials.

A White House official said that Mr. Watkins, who hails from Mr. Clinton's hometown of Hope, Ark., and has been business partner of Hillary Rodham Clinton in ventures under scrutiny in the Whitewater probe, is the president's "golf contact."

"You know golf is a big part of his [Mr. Clinton's] life," the official explained.

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