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.