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Bush Wept Over Tailhook, Former Pilot Testifies : Scandal: Woman who is suing Hilton hotel says President summoned her to the Oval Office after hearing of the assault.

October 05, 1994|PAMELA WARRICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAS VEGAS — When then-President George Bush learned about the Tailhook assault on helicopter pilot Paula Coughlin, he summoned her to the Oval Office and wept, according to Coughlin's testimony in federal court Tuesday.

After she was delivered to a back entrance of the White House in June, 1992, by an Air Force general, Coughlin said Bush met with her privately and said he was "very, very, very upset" about the attack a year earlier by a gantlet of drunken aviators at their annual Tailhook convention.

"He said he had just found out what happened to me and he was very, very, very upset. He said he had a 31-year-old also and (then) he started to cry. I really didn't know what to do," Coughlin said. "I didn't know if I could cry any more."

Coughlin said the President also told her he was seeking the resignation of Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III, who was later forced to step down.

In addition, four admirals were fired or forced to retire for failing to act on Coughlin's complaint or covering up details of the assaults, which occurred during a raucous Las Vegas weekend convention.

Coughlin, a former Navy lieutenant, sued the Tailhook Assn. and the Las Vegas Hilton, where the 1991 convention of the independent group of aviators had been held for the last 20 years. Shortly before the civil jury trial began last month, Coughlin reached a confidential settlement with the Tailhook Assn.

The original whistle-blower on the Tailhook scandal, a frail-looking Coughlin was in her second day of emotionally charged testimony Tuesday. Her lawsuit against Hilton alleges that the hotel chain failed to provide proper security during the bawdy event three years ago.

Attorneys for Hilton, who deny the allegations of hotel negligence, have suggested alternately that Coughlin was either naive about what to expect at Tailhook '91 or that she willingly joined the drinking and debauchery.

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