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Tower Accused of Recent Intoxication; FBI Checking

February 05, 1989|JOHN M. BRODER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In its renewed investigation of defense secretary nominee John Tower, the FBI is checking allegations that Tower was recently involved in an episode of public drunkenness, sources said Friday--allegations that call into question his insistence that he has no current drinking problem.

Tower testified in confirmation hearings earlier last week that his problems with alcohol are behind him. But a senior member of the Armed Services Committee said Friday that the allegation, if true, suggests that the former Texas senator's drinking problem "may be ongoing," and said his confirmation remains in doubt.

The charge received Wednesday by the committee was very specific, giving the date and place of the alleged incident, and was made by an informant who identified herself, a knowledgeable source said. The episode allegedly occurred within the last year at the Monocle, a Capitol Hill restaurant frequented by lawmakers, lobbyists and congressional aides.

Two other allegations under scrutiny by the FBI's special inquiries unit, which is working around the clock this weekend on the Tower matter, involve assertions of another incident of public intoxication and of a recent affair with an unidentified Dallas woman.

If the new charges should be verified by the FBI, Tower's nomination is doomed, an authoritative committee source said.

FBI agents spent two hours at the Monocle Friday, interviewing the owner, the maitre d', bartenders and waiters, The Times learned. The agents were told that Tower, when he was in the Senate, "used to drink martinis."

But one source said no one on the staff could contradict Tower's statement that in recent years he has moderated his once-heavy drinking and now only drinks an occasional glass of wine. In fact, in recent weeks, the staff told agents, he often has ordered tonic water.

None of the staff could recall any recent incident of improper behavior by Tower at the restaurant, sources said.

The Armed Services Committee was set on Thursday to approve the Tower nomination, but chairman Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) abruptly canceled the vote because of the new charges, which he referred immediately to FBI Director William Sessions.

Extensive Investigation

The bureau already had conducted an extensive background investigation of Tower, a 24-year Senate veteran who headed the Armed Services panel from 1981 to 1985. The background check went over numerous allegations of personal impropriety as well as potential conflicts of interest involving Tower's work as a highly paid consultant to a several major defense contractors after leaving the Senate.

When he nominated Tower, President Bush said he was "totally satisfied" with the FBI check.

Nunn said he did not expect the latest FBI inquiry to be completed until at least Tuesday.

Tower on Friday declined to comment, as he has throughout the confirmation inquiry. "I'm embargoed" until after the Senate votes, he said Wednesday.

No date has been set for a resumption of confirmation hearings, but Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, the committee's ranking Republican, said Friday that GOP members would press for a vote next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Some Tower supporters complained that committee Democrats were turning the confirmation process into a "circus" for partisan political reasons.

Bush Stands Pat

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that President Bush, who has stressed the need for ethical conduct by all of his appointees, is not considering withdrawing Tower's nomination.

A senior White House staff member, who asked not to be identified, said Administration officials were getting impatient for Tower's confirmation to be completed. "Everybody kind of wants to get our Cabinet in," the aide said.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said that the controversy has already hobbled Tower's ability to lead the Pentagon effectively.

And two influential defense industry trade magazines on Monday will call for Tower to withdraw from consideration for the Pentagon post.

Attacked in Editorial

In an editorial prepared for Monday's issue, Defense News, a trade paper widely read by defense contractors and on Capitol Hill, says, "Withdrawal is necessary because the record of Mr. Tower's professional life raises substantive doubt that he can perform with utmost effectiveness at a time when defense priorities and the Defense Department each are undergoing periods of vital, but delicate, change."

The paper describes Tower as "abrasive" and uninterested in reforming the troubled Pentagon acquisition system. It criticizes the former Texas senator as blind to the appearance of conflict of interest in having accepted more than $1 million over the last three years from firms doing business with the Pentagon.

Army Times, another prominent defense community publication, says Tower is unsuited for the Defense Department post because of his work as a consultant to defense contractors shortly after leaving government service in 1986.

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