A NOMINEE'S WITHDRAWAL: Transcript of the Statement by Inman on His Decision to Withdraw

The New York Times - Published: January 19, 1994

AUSTIN, Tex., Jan 18

- Following is a transcript of remarks today by Bobby Ray Inman in announcing his decision not to pursue confirmation as Secretary of Defense, and excerpts from the question-and-answer session, as recorded by the Federal News Service, a transcription company, and the C-Span cable television network: For those of you who aren't residents of Austin, welcome to Austin.

This morning, the White House released two letters: my letter asking the President not to go forward with my nomination for Secretary of Defense and his response accepting that. This was not a decision I reached easily, but it's one I have thought through and I am comfortable with.

My apologies for those of you who don't know me, that you don't have a formal statement. The informal, impromptu, is the style I use, including at the Rose Garden, and it's the one that I will stay with today.

Let me say first, for those who might be hoping for some disagreement or distance with the President, there is no daylight between the two of us at all. He was disappointed in my decision, but he has supported it.

I will run through for you the sequence of events and then draw some conclusions, and then a few questions I'll answer along the way.

First, when we went to the Rose Garden on the 16th and I made my comment, I would judge the general media coverage over the next 24 hours to have been astonishingly positive from my point of view, typified by the Herblock cartoon in The Washington Post that showed the Pentagon under management in 1994. That mood began to shift pretty fast, and if you pick up the Herblock cartoon two days later -- General McClellan out in the Virginia battlefield talking about getting a comfort level with the President -- a certain degree of spin on the issue had begun.

Sitting down here in Austin, and then up in Colorado and back here, I tell you, I viewed all of this with some bemused detachment.

I read constantly every day about the spin activities of the White House or others. At my request, the White House was totally silent on this issue and so was I. But if you go back and look, the spin is clearly there, at least in some presentations.

I began to get a good flavor of what was coming on the following Sunday, the 19th. When I was helping do some laundry, my wife took a phone call from a reporter, handed it to me, where my injunction that I wasn't going to talk was temporarily broken.

It was a reporter, a young reporter from The New York Times working on a story, based here in Austin, on Tracor. He explained that he wanted to ask some questions about it, and he was looking at my business experience.

I started asking what else was he going to cover? Was he going to deal with the boards I had served on, all the rest of it, and he very quickly told me he was writing exactly the story that his editors wanted...The lesson for me in not trying to manage the news. Also, when I read them the story the next day, I understood clearly where things were going.

And I would simply reference those of you who are out there working. If you put together the article on Tracor and M.C.C. written and published in The Austin American Statesman, and put that side by side with The New York Times piece on the business expense, I'll be happy to let simply that comparison stand to finish that issue. 'Vitriolic Attacks'

On the 20th, trying to get bad news behind them, someone gave Rita Braver a story on what has become familiarly known as Nannygate. The White House then did a very short press release on the issue of payment or nonpayment of Social Security taxes, and there was a great rush of coverage. I elected to remain silent until today on that issue.

What I noted with some chagrin is the speed with which a great many people rushed to judgment without having all the facts. I would simply hope that all those editorial writers who took a strong view on it have never themselves had a baby sitter that they paid more than $50 to in a quarter on which they did not file Social Security taxes.

Late that week came the first of a handful of vitriolic attacks from columnists that we'll get into in more detail later but that clearly set the tone for the coverage that then followed for some period of time. Three days after Mr. Safire's column, I got the first indication from friends on the Republican side of the aisle that Senator Dole had asked that a more partisan look be taken at my record. Now, there are substantial disputes about what he actually said or what his view was or what's gone on, but I'm trying to give you my state of mind in the decision-making process.

I asked some old friends to find out if Senator Dole really had decided to oppose the nomination. The answer was no, he hadn't made up his mind on where he came down but that there were a lot of tough questions that needed to be asked. He had his own appearance on "Meet the Press," and in a quip and response to someone asking about my politics, he described me as a "Gergen Republican." As those of you who live around here know, I'm a political independent and have held to that pretty fiercely over the years.

Early the following week, in a sequence of discussions trying to clarify what was the likely status of support for my nomination, I had heard from a couple of senators on the Armed Services Committee that there the support was essentially unanimous in support of an early and quick confirmation. But there were conflicting reports about the view of the minority leader. There were reports, which both will probably deny, that there was a trade between Mr. Safire and Senator Dole, that if Senator Dole would turn up the heat on my nomination that Safire would turn up the heat on Whitewater Development.

Whether it's true or not, I believed it was true on the 6th, and that's the day I said, "I don't need this," and made up my mind that, in fact, I was going to withdraw.

I called to tell that to a colleague at the White House who was managing my confirmation, and to my dismay, found that the President's mother had just died. I made the decision that that was not the time to give the President further bad news. I drafted a letter, finished it on the 8th. That was the day of the funeral, and the President was then leaving for Europe, and I made the decision that my own unhappiness or discomfort was not a reason to detract from the President's first trip to Europe. So I elected to hold the letter.

I had it delivered last Friday, and it was finally addressed when the President returned yesterday.

I have made it a practice over the years never to discuss the details of my conversations with Presidents, and I don't intend to depart from that. I learned long ago if you talk about your conversations you don't get invited to have other ones. But I will say that while he was disappointed in my decision, he accepted it and this morning formally signed the letter committing not to go forward. 'Drumfire of Stories'

Now let me stand back from that recitation of a sort of sequence of events and talk about the events themselves and what really brings me to this gathering with you today.

From the earliest encounter -- "I'm writing the story my editors want to hear" -- to another editor saying, "Bobby, you've just got to get thicker skin. We have to write a bad story about you every day. That's our job," to watching from a distance the drumfire of stories, particularly about Whitewater.

And as I sat out here in the heartland and looked at that daily frenzy, it was my judgment that those were very legitimate issues in the 1992 election, that they're probably very legitimate issues for the 1996 election. But what do they have to do with governing the country in January 1994? And where is the focus on the whole range of issues from defense reform to health care to welfare reform?

Indeed, it was ultimately my judgment that while the view I heard in the Eastern seaboard was that one has to expect this as the daily cost of public service, that I heard from the rest of the country -- it's a little more vernacular than I will do with cameras grinding, but essentially throughout the rest of the country I heard, "Why would you put up with that garbage just to do public service?"

And the longer I thought about it, I decided the rest of the country has it right, and that if, in fact, going through that daily offensive is the price of public service, I've already given 30 years of service to my country and I don't wish or intend to subject myself to that on a daily basis as a cost of trying to produce change.

To move away from the theoretical to the specific, when I went through confirmation in 1981. I'd been nominated by the President to be the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence. Mr. Casey didn't want me as his deputy, but the Congress did. The President nominated me.

Mr. Casey had a tough confirmation hearing, but he was a friend of the President's and, therefore, the agency and the community strongly supported it. I had a two-hour hearing and a 98-to-0 vote in confirmation, and I also had real power in dealing with the problems of the intelligence community and was able to lay out a long-term strategic plan.

I have no doubt that had I elected to go forward, I would have been handily confirmed by the Senate, probably with a good shot at a unanimous vote out of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But the damage done in an hour and a -- in a day-and-a-half session on the bureaucracy itself, in my judgment, would have been large.

I spent a lot of time, a lot of my life in those bureaucracies. If -- it is obvious to all that I was not part of the campaign, I'm not a long-time friend of the President. He clearly had selected me. I have no doubt at this point that I had his total support. But the real key to whether the Pentagon would get uniformly behind me for change was their view of the degree of Congressional support. Now today I'm hearing that that support was very strong. That's not what I was hearing two weeks ago when I made my decision.

Let me turn to the issue of Nannygate. When a prospective nominee for attorney general got a great deal of publicity over the issue of child support, home care, I broke out my handy "Ernst & Young Tax Guide" and looked at what it has to say about independent contractors and said, "I don't have a problem; I'm in good shape."

The individual drives herself, decides when she will work, is paid a flat rate for the job, doesn't matter how many hours worked, provides her own supplies, clearly qualifies as an independent contractor. And then I probed and found that when we moved from a relatively small house in Austin to a larger one in 1990, a brand-new house with brand-new features, my wife wanted a different level of quality of supplies used, and so initially we bought a significant amount of the supplies used, which brought into question for that year whether the independent contractor role would stand. For the remaining years, it went without question.

When I got into the deep dialogue about taking the job -- and it's no great secret in Austin my family was not enthusiastic about my return to public service -- one requirement for my wife -- and she hasn't given me many over the years -- was that whatever I did, I would not end up exposing or embarrassing a very loyal, hard-working, native-born employee with a seventh-grade education. I asked midway through the summer had she ever paid income taxes, and I found that she had not.

Further, she had no records. So, subsequently, when I became concerned that my taking public office might lead to her exposure, we reconstructed the records. When there was a leak and because she had not had time to pay, I went down and paid Social Security taxes, and I expect to get most, if not all, of those back over time from the I.R.S.

But this isn't a plea for blamelessness; rather it's a plea for other people to look at the same problem.

Never once did I give her an annual statement of her income. Never once did I give her any support or assistance in how one might go about finding tax burden or settling it -- not until now. Once this is behind us and there's no longer the allegation of having done something for cover-up, tomorrow I'll hire a lawyer and, if necessary, I'll loan her the money to get the problem behind her, because right now she's afraid she might lose her house and is simply going to make the settlement.

When this first came to light and looking to say, "Can I do anything constructive out of a situation of which I am not proud?" I got into a conversation with Patricia Ireland, the president of the National Association of Women. And we agreed to work together to say, "Could we propose legislative changes that might help the -- probably more than thousands, probably millions of other women who are in comparable situations?"

Unfortunately, I surprised Ms. Ireland with my decision today. I have only the draft ideas. But we will continue to work together to see what we can propose to Chairman Moynihan and Chairman Rostenkowski and Secretary Bentsen for changes in the law and in the I.R.S. regulations that at least may help, over time, other people not find themselves in the same situation in which we found ourselves here. Relationship With the Press

Let me turn to two issues which have troubled me greatly -- one is the perception that's been created in the media of "a manipulator of the press" -- and tell you some history that most of you may not know.

In 1977, when I'd just become the director of the National Security Agency, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times both got a story about a U.S. congressman providing information of discussions going on in committees, provided that information to a foreign government. The Wall Street Journal checked with the Pentagon: would it be damaging if they told how the U.S. knew? Assistant Secretary of Defense Tom Ross told them it would be, and so they elected not to detail how the Government knew, but they printed the story on what the congressman had been doing.

Twenty-four hours later The Times, distressed they'd been scooped, headlined how the Government knew, and we promptly lost our ability to provide any intelligence to the Government on that situation.

For Attorney General Griffin Bell, cause and effect were very clear. He went to President Carter and said, "We need to do something about this." At a breakfast with those two and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown, the decision was made to send a delegation to see the publisher and editors of The New York Times and tell that what had occurred. That delegation was composed of D'Ann Seymour, the general counsel at D.O.D., Tom Ross, the assistant secretary, and Vice Admiral Inman, the director of the National Security Agency.

It was a somber lunch as I detailed for Mr. Sulzberger and his colleagues exactly what had occurred. At the end, when I finished, the publisher said, "Admiral, if this is a pitch for censorship, forget it." My response was, "If it was a pitch for censorship, we wouldn't be there." If it was an effort to try to say how could we avoid needless damage to intelligence sources and methods, they'd be willing to try. And a fascinating conversation ensued for half an hour between the publisher and the editors, at which they ultimately concluded what they needed was the ability at 7:00 to 7:30 in the evening, when they were putting together the paper, to call and say, "Will it be damaging if we say the following?" And to get a straight answer -- not just, "We don't want the story because it would be embarrassing," but, specifically, would it be damaging or not. Inman Was 'Point of Contact'

The three of us agreed to take that back. Secretary Brown reported it to the President and Attorney General. The Attorney General urged President Carter to try, and so they made the decision to do it, and the issue was who would be that point of contact? And President Carter decided that Vice Admiral Inman would be that point of contact.

So, from the late summer of 1977 until I retired 1 July 1982, this carried over in an exchange between Secretary Brown and Secretary Weinberger. As an important function to keep under way, I responded on a great many evenings to editors working stories. There were a lot of stories that I let go through, even though people didn't like it. There were others where the editors made the decisions to alter the terms of the story to protect intelligence sources and method.

In that process, I got to know a lot of editors. But there was one requirement from the outset: working reporters could not use that channel as a way to go find new stories or confirm stories. There were occasions that reporters tried, and particularly that a couple of columnists tried, and I always referred them off to their editors.

When I retired from Government in 1982, Mr. Casey decided he wanted to pick up that role, and it very quickly died. But I suddenly found, living down here in Austin, Tex., that I continued to get calls from editors asking for advice because they couldn't get an answer from the Government, and then from time to time from working reporters, asking help to understand backgrounds for stories.

I hope I have provided a useful service. I stand here very confident in saying publicly to all of you that I never used that process to manipulate any news story. And if you would ask the editors and those who were involved, I think you would find the same answer from them.

It is distressing to me to read intimations that somehow I've been a manipulator or a leaker on middle-of-the-night phone calls. Those few of you who know me well know I'm not awake in those midnight hours. But if returning a reporter's call at 9:00 in the morning is considered the middle of the night call, I plead guilty to that response.

Finally, to the specific relationship with a columnist -- and here I had a number of wise old friends tell me this is the part of this press conference I should avoid, that I'm opening up a hornet's nest. But I want to talk to you for a few minutes about the new McCarthyism.

When I was a young naval officer, this country was subjected to a period that was very corrosive to democracy when Senator Joseph McCarthy would make outrageous charges, largely against public servants. And for a very long time, those charges went unanswered, until finally television hearings, Army-McCarthy hearings, a lawyer, Joseph Welch, finally said directly, "Have you no decency?" And finally others began to stand up and respond. Differences With Safire

In ultimately reaching my decision that I'm simply not prepared to pay the current cost of public service in distortion of my record, I want to dwell briefly on my past experience and history with Mr. Safire.

After the process had been set up for editors to call to check out stories, I received a call from Mr. Safire seeking information, not to confirm, and I declined to be a source. He was very direct that if I didn't become a source, I would regret it in the subsequent coverage. Then he later wrote an article that contained information that indeed caused us to lose critical access that gave us a lot of information on terrorists.

I went to the editors of the Times to say, "Why didn't you call?" and they said, oh, they don't touch his material in the process. So I called him and was very direct in my view about damage done. That did not endear me to the columnist.

Subsequently, in early 1981 when the Israelis bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor, I looked at the distance on the map from Israel to Baghdad, and thought, I wonder how and where they got the targeting material?

We had long-established procedures that in honoring our commitment for Israel's defense, we permitted Israel to requisition satellite photography of potential direct threats to their systems. When I asked what materials had been drawn under that process for the last six months, I found not only a lot of information on Baghdad had been drawn but also on other countries substantially removed from Israel: Pakistan, Libya. And I made the decision as the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, the acting director, to limit the process, to say that in the future they could draw material within 250 miles of the border, but beyond that, they would have to ask.

The Defense Minister, General Sharon, was so furious he came to the U.S. to protest to Mr. Weinberger. The Secretary of Defense supported my decision. Casey had been on a trip down to Australia and New Zealand. When he came back, his favorite journalist and former campaign manager, Mr. Safire, complained to him about the decision. When we had a rather heated discussion, I recommended that Mr. Casey talk to Mr. Weinberger, who had supported me, and he elected not to override the decision. But from that point on, if you will trace the coverage, it's been hostile.

What troubles me in this era of modern McCarthyism isn't the daily press; it's my judgment, valid or otherwise, that the daily working reporting coverage of my nomination has been extraordinarily fair, that the television coverage, the news coverage of it has been uniformly fair. My problem is with the columnist who is afforded the pages of the newspaper and the syndication and the talk shows to carry on attacks with no one responding.

When the column came out that so agitated me for, I thought, its unfairness, the old friends in Washington said, "You shouldn't respond; let us." But it turned out no one wanted to be the new target.

Now, why does this trouble me so deeply? Because I have a fundamental sense of ethics and fairness, that those who elect to try to inform by opinion should hold themselves to the same standards that they're holding those in public service. Mr. Safire's characterization of me as a tax cheat, from a man who has hidden his own plagiarism by an out-of-court settlement with sealed documents, does not, in my judgment, put him in a position to frame moral judgment on any of us, in or out of public service.

And at that point I'll pause and I'll be happy to try to answer your questions. QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q. Admiral, with all due respect, it seems that if you're this concerned about your reputation and the attacks on it, why didn't you stay in the public arena and defend it rather than withdraw?

A. Well, we had great discussions within the family about that process, and the vote was split. The two sons thought I ought to go to the hearings, go through the hearings and then resign, the point being that I've not -- that I've clearly not made it isn't the question of the hearings. The hearings would be pretty fast and over. It is the prospect that this is to be anticipated as the daily diet, every day going forward for three years, and that one should expect that at the cost of public service -- that's what I'm saying I'm not willing to do. . . .

Q. Did you feel that there was a chance that your confirmation was not (inaudible) would not be approved?

A. I have been assured by every member of the Armed Services Committee that I've talked to that while there were going to be lots of questions that they now felt obligated to pursue, that the -- if it wouldn't be a unanimous vote, there would probably be only one or two in the Armed Services Committee who didn't support, and that the general count, you know, not another 98 to 0, because a couple of people have already declared they weren't going to vote for it, but it would have been probably in the 90's. . . .

Q. And when, exactly, did you decide?

A. I decided on the 6th of January.

Q. If that's the case, sir, then you're essentially allowing a columnist to deny the President his choice for Secretary of Defense. You yourself said that the daily working press did not treat you badly, so that's----

A. I suspect that if one could get a real accounting, that there are already a good many people who have been approached about public service who have elected not to undertake it for precisely the reasons I've tried to focus on today.

I'm a strong believer in the First Amendment, not looking for legislation. I would not be distressed, however, if the American Newspaper Publishers Association decided that a code of ethics, at least for those who are going to write columns, might be in order but literally enforced in the media itself. . . .

Q. Sir, on the question of other possible factors, since your nomination, were you able to look into the proposed defense cuts, and did those cuts play a factor in the decision?

A. Let me -- yeah, they do to a degree, and I signaled that earlier, but maybe it was not very clear why the support, overwhelming Congressional support, was so critical to me in this decision process, and even now how that translates to support within the department.

It is my judgment, in looking at the prospective funding for the five-year plan on one side and the prospective force level of a bottom-up review on the other, that you cannot in fact pay for the prospective force level with the prospective budget dollars if you continue to spend money the way it is now spent.

There are already proposals out there from the Administration for procurement reform. It's a wrenching cultural change. Thousands of jobs are at stake, and those who have those jobs would resist.

And we've already seen in the earliest reaction to the Rose Garden that at least one member of Congress indicated that I scared the bejesus out of her and that I was a product of a military-industrial complex. Hadn't looked very carefully at what I've done in most of the last 10 years.

But the key here was that it was very obvious unless there is an overwhelming support from the leadership of the Congress, not just the Armed Services Committee, who already understand and are ready to move on this, if you don't move in the next several months that legislation to reform how you spend money and vastly thin out the overhead, then two years from now the President's going to find himself in a terrible crunch on either having to add more money to the budget or taking more force-level reductions. . . .

Q. Admiral, were you aware of other specific allegations about you that were going to be coming out?

A. No, none. There are -- I was fascinated by the questioning process. The reporters have been out all over the country: "Have you ever heard Admiral Inman tell a racially oriented joke? If not, has he ever walked out when somebody else told one?" That's sort of the nature of a lot of the discourse around the country.

Somebody is going back, when I was the director of -- Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, I was asked to meet with Lyndon LaRouche and his wife to debrief on a trip from a foreign country. There have actually been reporters out to say, "Gee, is there a LaRouchie connection here that we ought to pursue?"

So that sort of thing is there. Clearly from the action I took back in 1980 in keeping the gay employee on the roll at N.S.A., there have been that series of stories as well, but those are not new. We dealt with those back in '80-'81, when to deal with them I volunteered to take the polygraph at C.I.A. Didn't need to, and I passed it, so those are behind. . . .

Q. When you say the new McCarthyism, are you referring specifically to the columnists?

A. Yes, columnists.

And the issue is where is there some balance? If they're going to be permitted to make absolute scurrilous charges, where is at least some balance of giving the individual who is going to be the target the opportunity to write something that can be put parallel to it at the same time frame.

Notwithstanding my decision earlier to say I wasn't going to be interviewed, had I been told that that specific article was going to occur, I would have told the story I've told you here today to go parallel to it in the paper.

View original article.