Clinton Air Force pick faces new attacks on integrity

July 22, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a Senate committee's crucial confirmation vote, President Clinton's choice to be the next secretary of the Air Force was confronted yesterday by continuing attacks on his integrity.

That attack has imperiled the secretary-designate's prospects for confirmation to a job whose nominees generally breeze to Senate approval.

Daryl Jones is an Air Force Academy graduate and a former fighter pilot who is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve. During Senate hearings on his selection in the past month, former squadron mates of his, including a former commander, surfaced to accuse him of lying about his flying record and pressuring enlisted airmen to buy Amway household products that he and his wife sold.

In an extraordinary nine-hour hearing last Thursday, Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee confronted Jones, voicing concerns about his judgment and the discrepancies in his statements.

Jones defended his record, insisting that he had been falsely accused in some instances, made honest mistakes in others and had differing recollections. His testimony, though, failed to persuade many of the Republican senators on the committee, which met yesterday to debate the nomination. Senators and White House officials said last night that the committee's vote, set for today, was too close to call.

Not since a Democratic-controlled Senate rejected President Bush's choice of Sen. John Tower to be Defense secretary in 1989 have senators been so riven by a Pentagon nomination. The Senate has not rejected a president's pick to head a branch of the armed forces in recent memory.

"I'm leaning against him," said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a committee member. He said that he was especially troubled that Jones collected flight pay -- $88 a month -- for nearly four years after he stopped flying F-16s and took a desk job.

Jones has met with senators this week to ease their worries. Clinton and Defense Secretary William Cohen have called wavering senators on behalf of Jones, who would become the first black secretary of the Air Force.

"Even though it's been tough on me, I do believe the process has been open and fair," Jones said this week.

If approved, Jones, 43, would succeed Sheila Widnall, the first female secretary of an armed service, who resigned last fall.

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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