The Case of the Honorable
John Glenn, United States Senator
Senator John Glenn's prominent role in the current hearings of the
Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs raises uncomfortable questions.
First among these is the matter of his personal history with regard
to fund raising practices. His appearance, in 1990, among the senators
known by the country as "The Keating Five" was a great
disappointment to admirers of space heroes. As one who watched every
minute of those hearings by the Senate Ethics Committee on television,
I was then of the opinion that his receipt of $200,000 from Mr.
Keating and subsequent favors, including the arrangement of a lunch
for Mr. Keating with then-Speaker Jim Wright, amounted to a borderline
case for which Senator Glenn had already suffered public humiliation
before and during the hearings.
I said so at the time in a detailed analysis of the hearings which
the co-chairs, I was told, found accurate to the point that it was
circulated in the Senate. (All participants were sent a copy by
myself.) Compared with the blatant conduct of the other three Democrats
- Senators Cranston, DeConcini and Riegle - Senator Glenn's relationship
with Charles Keating could be, and was, excused.
But on that occasion John Glenn demonstrated that, in the realm
of campaign finance, he was at the very least guilty of extreme
naivety, not consistent with the expectations people have of a United
States Senator. Given the potential gravity of the case now before
the nation, those who evaluate its merits must be - and must be
seen to be - untainted by the acceptance of questionable contributions.
In this, I defer to no lesser authority than Robert Bennett, now
counsel to the President, then Special Counsel to the Senate Ethics
Committee. Two of his comments stand out in memory because he repeated
them over and over. One was in response to statements by the accused
Senators and their attorneys suggesting that "everybody does
it." Mr. Bennett responded in the most impassioned tone of
voice: "No - everybody doesn't do it."
Mr. Bennett's other comment addressed ethical standards. He pointed
out that it won't do for high public officials simply to avoid breaking
the law; that the standards to which holders of the public trust
must adhere are far above those expected of ordinary citizens.
Then there is Senator Glenn's initial statement, quoted widely
in the press, that "I recall nothing to document allegations
that China had done anything illegal." These words indicate
either that he does not comprehend the purpose of the investigation,
or that he has agreed to run interference for those who have reason
to fear the outcome of these investigations.
The People's Republic of China is not subject to the laws of the
United States of America. President Clinton is. Vice President Gore
is. Senator Chris Dodd is. The entire Democratic National Committee
is. And so is the Republican National Committee. The people's right
to know is whether any of the aforementioned have violated U.S.
law. The people's right to know is whether national security has
been compromised. If this is not clear to Senator Glenn, someone
for whom it is clear should take his place on the committee.
If, on the other hand, he is running interference to divert attention
from the real issue, he will be compounding the damage to his own
good name and that of Democrat politicians in general. As it is,
the people of this country must be watching with great sadness how
a once-venerable party is permitting at best, causing at worst,
many of its spokesmen and women to depart from the tradition of
merely partisan speech and replace it with outright untruth.
For the sake of all great Democrats who used to be and still are
among us, and to restore John Glenn's place in history, the Senior
Senator from Ohio might consider some reasonable options. If he
feels committed to carrying on with his present duties, he should
show us that he can match the integrity his Republican peers displayed
at the time of Watergate. Then-Senator Howard Baker comes to mind,
and his famous question: "What did the President know, and
when did he know it?"
However, the most gallant step by a national hero of John Glenn's
stature would be to concede that, with reference to "The China
Syndrome," he feels no longer qualified for further effective
involvement. Let someone with a clean slate represent the minority,
and persuade America that Democrats in Congress care as much about
national security as the rest of us do.
Campaign finance may be an irritant. Our national security is a
matter of survival.