Magazine article Insight on the News

A Shocked Senator Helms Responds to Insight Story

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Shocked Senator Helms Responds to Insight Story

Article excerpt

Arecent trip to Israel by Sen. Jesse Helms' chief Middle East aide to meet with Yasser Arafat has sparked a storm of protest and has given rise to questions from senators and their aides about how far the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has gone to keep its chairman in the dark on vital matters.

"I did not authorize or sanction any trip overseas" for staff members to meet with the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, Helms tells Insight. "I didn't know that it had occurred," says the North Carolina senator, who acknowledges that he first learned about the meeting upon reading Insight. He has vowed to find out who authorized it and why.

It has emerged that approval for the trip by Danielle Pletka, Helms' chief Middle East expert, was granted by the senator's chief of staff, James "Bud" Nance, a retired admiral who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Nance, who spoke with Insight after Helms, says he authorized the trip without telling Helms and that he failed to inform the senator about Pletka's meeting with Arafat. He acknowledges, though: "I should not have approved the trip."

"The blame is mine" for not informing Helms of such a high-level overseas meeting, Nance concedes. He says he partly failed to keep his boss informed because he was preoccupied with "personal medical problems" of his own. He also remarked that he was at fault for failing subsequently to provide the senator with a report on the meeting, which has upset American Jewish leaders as well as Republican members of the Senate.

"Who's running the show over there?" a Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee asked when informed of events surrounding the Arafat meeting. This comment echoed a general concern about whether Helms' staffers have cut deals with the Clinton administration in return for behind-the-scenes White House support for a reorganization of the State Department.

Bristling at the suggestion that he has gone soft on terrorism, Helms confirmed to Insight that he recently met with President Clinton about the State Department reorganization bill. "I warned him that it would be dangerous to veto this legislation," Helms says. The president, according to the senator, agreed reforms are needed and suggested there could be room for discussions between them.

To suggest that a quid pro quo was initiated, however, is wrong, Helms says. …

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