Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who has said he did not pull strings to avoid the Vietnam-era draft, was able to get his Army induction notice canceled in the summer of 1969 after a lobbying effort directed at the Republican head of the state draft agency.
Two former GOP aides--including the then-head of the state party--said they arranged for him to plead his case personally to Col. Willard A. (Lefty) Hawkins, director of the state Selective Service office. Hawkins, an appointee of Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, was the only person in Arkansas with authority to rescind a draft notice.
Clinton campaign spokeswoman Betsey Wright said that while Clinton could not recall approaching Hawkins, "he's not going to deny it." She acknowledged that the draft notice "clearly was canceled in some way." She said the cancellation did not represent special treatment, however, because it was "a fairly common practice" at the time.
A former aide to the late Hawkins said the director routinely granted requests to cancel inductions for Army draftees who wished to enlist in another branch of the military. At the time, Clinton was lobbying separately for admission to an already filled Reserve Officer Training Corps program at the University of Arkansas.
How the Clinton draft order came to be canceled has been one of the lingering mysteries of a controversy that has dogged the Democrat's campaign since last spring. The account of Clinton's personal role in getting that induction order canceled points to nothing illegal or improper. In fact, it was widely accepted at the time that Clinton's Rhodes scholarship was appropriate grounds for special treatment.
"Bill Clinton was a star. We were proud of him," said retired Col. Clinton Jones, a former ROTC recruiter whose assistance helped get the young Clinton into the officer training unit. "I felt that a Rhodes scholar deserved better than to be drafted."
Clinton's use of political contacts to promote his cause, however, raises questions about campaign assertions that the candidate "never asked anyone for help." Clinton, who has said he never received any "unusual or favorable treatment," has specifically denied getting special treatment from draft officials.
"I certainly had no leverage to get it," he said last spring.
And last December, months before The Times disclosed that he had received an induction notice in the spring of 1969, Clinton told the Washington Post it was "just a pure fluke" that he was not drafted.
But evidence continues to grow that Clinton was aided by more than luck.
The Times has obtained a copy of a previously undisclosed letter to Col. Eugene J. Holmes, the ROTC commander, from an aide to Democratic Sen. J. William Fulbright, thanking Holmes for agreeing to make room for Clinton in his already filled unit. Holmes had said he was lobbied by Fulbright aides to permit Clinton into his program, acceptance that was crucial to Clinton's appeal for cancellation of his pending induction notice.
The letter from aide Lee Williams, filed among still-restricted papers in the Fulbright archives at the University of Arkansas, also reports that the young scholar was "elated" to be able to return to England for his second term at Oxford University. By that time, in the fall of 1969, Clinton had obtained a draft deferment based on his agreement to join the ROTC after one more term in Oxford. Clinton subsequently decided against joining the ROTC, saying he thought "it was not right" to keep a deferment after contemplating the deaths of friends in Vietnam.
The apparently successful appeal to Hawkins was planned while Clinton was finishing his first year as a Rhodes scholar in England. Clinton's former friend and Oxford classmate, Cliff Jackson--now an avowed political critic of the candidate--said it was pursued immediately upon Clinton's return to Arkansas in early July to beat a July 28 deadline for induction.
The appeal was described by Jackson as "Clinton's Republican strategy."
"We (Republicans) were the critical cog in a scheme devised by Bill to void that draft notice," said Jackson, who had returned from Oxford in the summer to work as a research assistant at state GOP headquarters here. "There wasn't much time. My assignment was to line up Republican help to get to Lefty Hawkins."
Van Rush, the executive secretary of the Arkansas Republican Party in 1969 and a friend of Hawkins, said he called Hawkins "to open the door" for a meeting between the draft official and Clinton after being urged to do so by Jackson.
"Lefty said he'd be happy to listen," Rush recalled in a recent telephone interview from his retirement home in Dallas. He said it was his understanding that the meeting he had helped to arrange did, subsequently, occur.
The former secretary of Clinton's hometown draft board, who has said she could not remember sending a draft notice to Clinton, nevertheless said she did remember Hawkins telling her about meeting with Clinton in Little Rock. She said Hawkins "was teasing me about it" later, because of a previous unpleasant encounter she had reported having with young Clinton.
"When he (Clinton) got back to Hot Springs (in July, 1969) he chewed me out," said Opal Ellis, the retired Hot Springs Draft Board secretary. She said Clinton was angry that he could not be exempted from the draft and that he told her he was going to "pull every string he could think of" to avoid being drafted. Clinton has denied having such a conversation, saying he would never have spoken to her in such a manner.
Jackson said he knows the Hawkins meeting occurred because Clinton told him about the outcome. It was after the Hawkins meeting, he said, that Clinton asked for more help getting the ROTC appointment.
"We worked on this project for two weeks (in July)," recalled Jackson. "I can remember Bill coming by Republican headquarters to see me."
Details of the GOP-assisted lobbying efforts on Clinton's behalf are particularly ironic today as the Bush campaign increases its attacks on the Democratic candidate over a draft record that, it could be argued, ultimately was shaped with help from key local officials in the President's own party.
The latest accounts are partially supported by old letters Jackson wrote to a mutual friend at the time. In one dated May 27, 1969, shortly before Clinton arrived home from England, Jackson said he was being pressured to use his political influence to help Clinton.
"I got a letter from Bill Clinton on Monday. . . . Although quite friendly, it was, I thought somewhat excessive and politically oriented in the sense that I'm a good person to be on amiable grounds with," the letter said.
And in another, written on July 11, Jackson related that Clinton was in Little Rock "feverishly trying to find a way to avoid entering the Army as a drafted private." He said his friend was trying to get into the Army Reserves or National Guard but that the units were filled, "and there is a law prohibiting a draftee from enlisting, anyway."
Then, referring to Hawkins, the letter added:
"The director of the state Selective Service is willing to ignore this law, but there are simply no vacancies."
Jackson said he also persuaded aides to Gov. Rockefeller to call Hawkins and ROTC officials at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to seek help for Clinton. The July 11 letter noted, "I have had several of my friends in influential positions trying to pull strings on Bill's behalf, but we don't have any results yet."
Jackson's reference to the director's willingness to "ignore the law" apparently was overstated. Hawkins, in fact, had full legal authority--as did all 50 state Selective Service directors--to cancel draft notices. According to Middleton P. Ray Jr., Hawkins' deputy and legal officer at the time, the director usually filed a letter asking the local draft board "to reopen and consider anew" the eligibility of the draftee.
The local board then had the option to grant a deferment based on new information or to reissue the induction notice. Draft cancellations were most common, Ray said, in cases where the Army draftee wished to enlist in another branch of the military, such as the Navy.
Clinton has said he tried to join officer candidate school programs in both the Air Force and the Navy, but failed the physical tests that were more stringent than the Army draft physical he passed in February.
No record of a formal cancellation of Clinton's draft notice has been found in draft board files reviewed by The Times or, according to Wright, in Clinton's papers. Nevertheless, the fact that Clinton was not compelled to report for induction as scheduled indicates that the draft notice must have been canceled, according to Ray.
Also, his acceptance into the ROTC program is further evidence that Clinton's pending induction orders had to have been canceled. ROTC regulations precluded acceptance of any recruit who already was drafted. Col. Jones, the ROTC recruiter, said he was in contact with the state Selective Service office and was never told that Clinton had been inducted.
Finally, the draft notice had to be canceled before Aug. 7, 1969, the date the Hot Springs Draft Board granted Clinton a 1-D deferment. That occurred shortly after Clinton signed what he recalls was a "letter of intent" to join the ROTC. Jones said Clinton signed "a standard ROTC contract," after which the ROTC recruiter said he filed a formal DD-44 notice with the Selective Service office.
According to Jones, the DD-44 notice meant that the ROTC's claim on Clinton had priority over any other branch of service that might try to draft him. In other words, Clinton was protected from the draft, no matter what his draft classification, as long as the notice was in force.
Clinton's efforts to obtain that ROTC appointment also benefited from political connections.
Col. Holmes, then commander of the unit, said in a recent written statement that he received several calls of support for the Rhodes scholar from Fulbright's office. Holmes said that someone (unnamed) from Hawkins' office also advised him of Fulbright's interest. Col. Jones said he got calls from Fulbright's office, as well as from aides to Gov. Rockefeller. He said, however, that he did not feel pressured.
Fulbright's role in helping Clinton has been a source of conflict and controversy since the draft first emerged as a campaign issue early this year. In the past Clinton had not acknowledged asking for help from Fulbright or his staff, but last week a campaign aide told the New York Times that Clinton had "talked to the Fulbright people about what his options were and asked them to help him ascertain those options, but he didn't ask anyone to influence anyone on his behalf."
Clinton had worked for Fulbright--both in his Washington office, while Clinton attended Georgetown University, and as a campaign volunteer in Arkansas during the summer of 1968.
The Los Angeles Times disclosed earlier this month that Clinton's late uncle Raymond Clinton asked Fulbright to intervene with his nephew's local draft board in the summer of 1968. The only surviving member of that panel, Robert Corrado, said he subsequently received a call from a Fulbright aide asking that "every consideration be given" to delaying Clinton's induction.
Fulbright told The Times recently that his memory was failing and he could not recall "the old days." His longtime aide, Lee Williams, said he could not recall making calls or contacts on Clinton's behalf.
However, the letter obtained by The Times was written to Holmes by Williams on Oct. 7, 1969, exactly two months after Clinton received his ROTC deferment. The letter expresses belated thanks "for all you did to be of assistance to Bill Clinton."