Body of Democrat donor to be removed from Arlington

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The Independent Online
The body of the former US ambassador to Switzerland is to be exhumed from Arlington National Cemetery and transferred to a family grave in California after the circumstances of his burial threatened serious political harm to President Bill Clinton. According to cemetery officials, the disinterment of someone buried at the premier military cemetery in the United States is without precedent.

The late ambassador, Larry Lawrence, was appointed in 1993 and died in office in 1996. He had expressed the wish to be buried at Arlington and, although he did not automatically qualify for the honour, special permission was granted in the light of his military service record. It emerged last week, however, that the authorities had found no evidence to support his claim to have served in the Merchant Marine during the Second World War, or to have been wounded.

It is now suggested that his claims were fabricated. Not in dispute, however, is his record as a generous donor - to the tune of several million dollars - to the Democratic Party.

Last month, a right-wing magazine created a stir with charges that President Clinton's readiness to "sell" favours to big party contributors extended not just to night stays in the White House or trips in Air Force One, but to burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery. The White House immediately offered chapter and verse on individuals granted special dispensation to be buried at Arlington and the charges were widely dismissed as malicious mischief-making of a particularly heinous kind.

It was then that Larry Lawrence and his war record came under scrutiny. While the White House cannot be held responsible for the alleged fabrication, it is accused of being insufficiently rigorous in its checks because of Mr Lawrence's party contributions.

The request for his reburial was made by his widow, Shelia, who wrote to Mr Clinton on Monday saying the controversy "precludes his resting there [Arlington] in peace".

Mr Clinton wrote back at once expressing regret, but promising, no doubt with some relief: "I will of course ensure that the Department of Defense accommodates your wishes."