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Issue of Clinton's Vietnam Draft Record Flares Up Again

By Bill McAllister
and Charles Babington

The Washington Post

Bill Clinton's draft status -- an issue the Arkansas governor had hoped to put to rest last week -- flared anew Wednesday with Republicans charging that the Democratic presidential nominee had failed to fully explain how he had avoided military service during the Vietnam War.

Campaigning in Kansas City, Vice President Quayle charged that Clinton "has a credibility problem" over the issue. "He is going to have to come clean with the American people and answer the questions," Quayle told reporters.

His comments were prompted by a Los Angeles Times story that Raymond Clinton, a now-deceased uncle of the Arkansas governor, had conducted a vigorous campaign to get Clinton enlisted in a Hot Springs, Ark., naval reserve unit rather than have his nephew face induction. Until that account was published, Clinton's only known encounter with military recruiters was his short-lived agreement to join an Army ROTC unit at the University of Arkansas. He never attended the university and backed out of the agreement after he drew a number in a draft lottery that made his induction unlikely.

Campaigning in Maryland Wednesday, Clinton declined to address the issue, saying he had fully discussed his draft status in a speech last week to the American Legion. "I already answered that. I have nothing further to say," Clinton said before an appearance in Montgomery County.

In Little Rock, campaign aides said later that Clinton was surprised by the accounts that his late uncle, an automobile dealer, had tried to get him in the Navy. "He doesn't know anything about it," said George Stephanopoulus, Clinton communications director. Betsey Wright, another Clinton aide who has researched the governor's years as a Rhodes scholar in England, said she had found "nothing to indicate he had any knowledge of it."

Trice Ellis Jr., the now-retired reserve officer who found a slot for Clinton in his unit, said in an interview Wednesday he had attempted to raise the matter with Clinton recently, telling him "I don't know if you know anything about this." Clinton did not respond, Ellis said.

Ellis said that he did nothing improper in attempting to find a reserve slot for Clinton, but he acknowledged he was friend of Raymond Clinton and was impressed by the chance to enlist someone with a college education. "We would have done that for anyone else who walked in the door," he said.

Republicans charged that the uncle's efforts illustrated how Clinton had failed in his avowed effort to "set straight" the record of how he had avoided military service during the war. "Serious witnesses now say that Bill Clinton did receive `favorable treatment' " charged Dominic DiFrancesco, former national commander of the American Legion, in a statement released by the Bush-Quayle campaign in Washington.

Quayle, who in 1988 underwent extensive questioning about how he secured his position in the Indiana National Guard during the war, said that the issue showed a fundamental difference between his military record and that of Clinton. "I chose to serve in the Indiana National Guard. Bill Clinton chose not to serve," the vice president said. "I answered all the questions that the media put to me in l988. I answered every single last one of them. Bill Clinton is going to have to answer those questions, too."

Sen. Al Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), Clinton's running mate who served in the Army in Vietnam, disputed Quayle's charges, saying that Clinton's speech to the Legion had "pretty well dealt with" the draft issue. The new account "should not affect Clinton's credibility," Gore told reporters in Denver.