Magazine article Insight on the News

White House Ignored Red Flags on Lawrence

Magazine article Insight on the News

White House Ignored Red Flags on Lawrence

Article excerpt

At 7 a.m. on Dec. 11, Larry Lawrence's body was dug up and removed from Arlington National Cemetery. This, according to Defense Secretary William Cohen "resolves the issue."

The kabuki dance of the letters -- the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger one from Lawrence's widow to the president asking for the body to be disinterred, and the regretful one from the president to the widow acceding to her request -- was choreographed by former White House press secretary Jody Powell, now flecking for Mrs. Lawrence.

Mrs. Lawrence's letter was as much an act of free will as Dick Morrist resignation after the tabloid revelations. The fact is the White House was willing to do anything to bury the Lawrence issue -- including digging him up. The reasons have little to do with his burial at Arlington and everything to do with his confirmation as ambassador to Switzerland. The Clinton White House clearly wants the spotlight to move away from a nominating process so deeply flawed it no longer can be explained away by the incompetence excuse.

Both the American Foreign Service Association and the American Senior Foreign Service Association expressed unprecedented opposition to the Lawrence nomination. "We opposed Lawrence not because he was a political appointee," a senior career diplomat told me, "but because he was so miserably unqualified. It was like sending a .150 hitter to bat and leaving plenty of .3S0 hitters on the bench."

But in the calculus of the old-boy network, Lawrence must have looked like a champion-raising money, entertaining lavishly, scratching the other boys' backs. During the routine background investigation, it turned out that lack of qualifications -- which included referring to the proudly neutral Switzerland as an "ally" during his testimony -- was the least of the nominee's problems.

Even a cursory look at the records of the U.S. Tax Court would have revealed a long and unhappy relationship with the IRS. Although willing to give generously to the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence went to great lengths to avoid paying the taxes he owed. In four different IRS settlements, he acknowledged that he overstated his deductions by as much as $5 million. On three different occasions he under reported his income by as much as $13 million. And on six different occasions he was cited by the IRS for deficiencies in taxes paid by as much as $419,000. A check of the index of petitions to the Tax Court from 1989 to 1991 shows that Lawrence had 22 disputes -- more than all but three other individual taxpayers.

When Lawrence's nomination failed to clear the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in November 1993, the foreign-service associations released some of his tax information, urging the president to reconsider. The White House responded by making available a letter from Lawrence's tax attorney explaining they were disputing "the fraud penalty imposed on the purported gift-tax liability."

So the White House was defending its nominee by releasing a letter conceding that there was a pending fraudulent income tax-return case, but that his lawyer was contesting it. Talk about tort reform! This really could speed up our legal system. ("Okay, Lawrence, you're free to go; your lawyer says you're A-okay")

These revelations alone should have damned Lawrence's appointment to the purgatory of bad ideas. Instead, the same hurry-up-and-let's-get-this-over-with attitude was displayed toward the contradictions in Lawrence's resume and the lack of evidence to back up his military claims

Even the Hotel Del Coronado's past was reinvented. …

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