Rarely does a politician tell a constituent “to hell with you,” but the U.S. Senate’s consideration of John Tower for defense secretary has become so acrimonious that even as bland and cautious a politician as Sen. Pete Wilson has taken to strong talk.
When Los Angeles businessman William G. Kapler recently wrote Wilson a sharply worded letter, saying “your support of John Tower smells of political cronyism,” Wilson waved off his secretary and wrote the reply himself.
He signed off this way, according to a copy of the Wilson letter made available by Kapler:
“I have taken the time and trouble to write this long letter,” Wilson writes, " . . . so that you might feel strongly enough about this whole subject to want to know the truth so that you could form a fair judgment about Sen. Tower.
“If I am correct in that assumption, it will have been worth the time and effort . . . if not, then to hell with you.”
Stunned by Bluntness
Kapler is out of the country on business, but his secretary said Wednesday he was stunned by Wilson’s bluntness. In his reply to Wilson, Kapler also said he was impressed with Wilson’s five-page response, which he subsequently forwarded to The Times.
Bill Livingstone, Wilson’s press secretary, said the senator rarely has time to reply personally to the many letters he gets, “but this is an issue so important to the senator that he penned this reply himself.”
Wilson, a Republican, sits on the Armed Services Committee, which voted to reject Tower’s nomination on a party-line vote. He has blasted leaks to the news media from an FBI report on Tower and has urged that the report be made public to improve Tower’s chances of being confirmed by the full Senate.
“The FBI reports--which I have read and you and the American people have not--make clear to any fair-minded person that these allegations (about Tower drinking and womanizing) range from unsubstantiated to flatly contradicted,” Wilson writes to Kapler.
His Problems With Report
Wilson then details his problems with the FBI report. He says that a flight attendant who accused Tower of drinking a fifth of vodka on a flight “flunked the polygraph examination that tested the truth of his story.”
And he writes Kapler that a businessman who said he saw Tower drunk in a hotel bar on three occasions some years ago “turns out to be a Democratic Party professional, and Sen. Tower was not in Washington on any of the three dates.”
The senator acknowledges that “John Tower did drink too much in the early 1970s . . . but he has not done so for at least 10 years.”
Wilson chastises Kapler further, saying: “I know John Tower. You do not. He is, Mr. Kapler, ‘the best’ America could have as secretary of defense.”
After he signed the letter, Wilson decided he had a little more to say on the subject and added a two-page “P.S.”
In it, he notes that one of Tower’s strongest opponents, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), had once been involved in a hit-and-run incident that took place in 1964 before he was elected to the Senate.
Newspaper reports on the incident, which Wilson included, implied that Nunn had been drinking before the wreck.
“Clearly, had the voters (of Georgia) applied the present day ‘Nunn standard’ to his conduct, he would have flunked the test,” Wilson wrote.
Still, if Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis had been elected President and nominated Nunn for defense secretary, Wilson writes, he would not have voted against Nunn’s confirmation “on those undisputed facts of a past alcohol problem.”
But Kapler was not convinced.
In his reply to Wilson’s letter, he said: “You have earned my respect with this response, but I feel that you have missed the point in my letter. . . . You ignore morality and integrity in your defense of John Tower. You and many of your colleagues know that this man had difficulty with alcohol abuse.
“He has openly and freely admitted to adultery. . . . I and my friends are tired of the arrogance of office that allows politicians to selectively forgive some and yet prosecute others. I would like to think you have the courage to get above politics and do what is morally right.”