U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston said today that there have been two instances in the past in which defense secretaries decided not to carry out a presidential order because they “felt that the President had had a bit too much to drink.”
The California Democrat did not identify the occasions, except to say they had occurred under different secretaries and different Presidents.
The Senate Democratic whip made his comments at a breakfast meeting with reporters in which he discussed John Tower’s troubled nomination to become defense secretary. A spokesman later said Cranston will oppose the nomination, which is in jeopardy of being rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Cranston mentioned the two incidents to reporters, saying they were indications that the nation cannot afford to have a secretary of defense who might be under the influence of alcohol and “unable to make a thoughtful and wise, quick decision on a matter of life and death for our country.”
Tower has been buffeted by questions about his drinking habits.
Cranston’s office issued a partial transcript of the breakfast session, and the senator said his information on the two incidents came from “what I consider an unimpeachable source that’s familiar as anyone is with military matters.”
He said there have been two instances since the position of defense secretary was created in which the Pentagon chief decided not to carry out presidential orders because he “felt that the President had had a bit too much to drink at that time and decided to wait until the President was sober before seeing if that was still what the President wanted to do.”
Cranston said neither of the incidents he was referring to involved a widely rumored incident in 1974 when Defense Secretary James Schlesinger issued an order to the armed forces not to execute any orders he had not personally approved. Richard Nixon was President at the time and in the throes of an impeachment crisis spawned by Watergate.