WASHINGTON — Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have demanded copies of a 1981 FBI report on former Assistant Navy Secretary Melvyn R. Paisley to determine why they were not informed by the Reagan Administration of allegations of wrongdoing against him at the time he was nominated, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said Tuesday.
"Regrettably, those allegations never reached the committee, so far as I can determine," said Warner, now the top Republican on the committee, which must approve all high-ranking appointees to the Defense Department.
Paisley, now a defense consultant and a primary target of a massive investigation into corruption within the Pentagon procurement system, was given only a cursory review by the committee when he was nominated by President Reagan as assistant secretary for naval research, engineering and systems. Only two members attended a Nov. 18, 1981, hearing on his nomination, which lasted nine minutes and ended with a voice vote recommending confirmation.
Since then, however, at least three people who knew Paisley have said that they told government officials before Paisley received Senate confirmation that he had engaged in improper activities when at Boeing. Those allegations included bribery of military officials and bugging the offices of competitors.
Warner, who has searched committee records relating to Paisley's confirmation, found that then-Chairman John Tower (R-Tex.) apparently never asked to see the FBI's report on Paisley.
He said Tower looked first at the report that the White House routinely sent the committee on each nominee. If the White House report indicated that the nominee had no problem, Tower did not request the FBI report. Tower was out of the country and unavailable for comment Tuesday.
In addition, Warner said Tower did not share with members of the minority party--then the Democrats--the information he received on presidential nominees.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), one of the other committee members who has requested permission to see the FBI report on Paisley, agreed with Warner that the committee was unaware of the charges against Paisley at the time the nomination was considered.
"The first question is: 'Did the FBI know?' and, if the FBI knew, then the question is: 'Did the White House know?' and, if the White House knew, then, 'Did they tell the committee?' " Levin said. "From what I've been able to ascertain, the committee did not know. But we don't yet know what the White House and the FBI knew."
No matter what the committee's inquiry finds, Levin said, he would encourage it to change its rules to keep another nominee with a similar background from slipping through the system unnoticed. He said all members should have access to the FBI information.
A 'Crush of Appointees'
E. Pendleton James, who was White House personnel director in 1981, told the Associated Press that the Paisley nomination was one of a "crush of appointees" during Reagan's first year and he had no recollection of allegations of dishonesty against Paisley.
James recalled that FBI reports on nominees "were very closely held" by the office of the White House counsel in those days and that any derogatory information on Paisley "was not heavy enough, because he was appointed." He noted also that then-Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger was forceful in getting the people he wanted for Pentagon jobs.
Although the FBI refused to comment on its investigation of Paisley, at least one former co-worker and Paisley's ex-wife claim to have alerted FBI agents to the allegations.
James Durst, a former Boeing executive, told The Times that in the 1970s Paisley boasted about bribes and bugging, and Durst said he gave the same information to the FBI at the time of Paisley's nomination.
Mildred R. McGetrick, one of Paisley's ex-wives, said she told FBI agents who were looking into her former husband's background that he was "dishonest with money" and accepted gratuities, including cash and gifts, during his 28-year career at Boeing.
In addition, McGetrick's sister, Mickey Pierson, said she wrote to Tower that Paisley was known to take bribes.
No current members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have any first-hand recollection of the Paisley confirmation hearings. Sen. Roger W. Jepsen (R-Iowa), a one-term senator who was defeated in 1984, presided over an abbreviated session, and the late Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), then a leading Democrat on the committee, introduced Paisley at the hearing in glowing terms as a World War II fighter ace and a skilled manager.
Paisley then made a statement in which he compared his decision to enter public service with George Washington's maxim: "Anybody who lives in a free democracy should be willing to give some part of his personal property and some part of his personal service to the defense of that society."
Staff writer John Broder contributed to this story.
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