Helicopter scandal hits White House

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Clinton yesterday dismissed David Watkins, a senior aide, who used a presidential helicopter to go golfing in Maryland. The White House first said that the trip by Mr Watkins and other aides was to prepare for a trip by Mr Clinton to the same golf course but changed its story when a photograph showed them entering the helicopter with their golf clubs.

Mr Clinton, announcing the resignation during his afternoon press conference on trade with China, was clearly eager to show that he had acted firmly to prevent misuse of office. He said the taxpayer would not have to pay 'one red cent' for the helicopter flight.

Doubly embarrassing for Mr Clinton is the fact that Mr Watkins, assistant to the president for administration and management, comes from Arkansas and was reprimanded for his role in the furore over the White House travel office last year. Career employees were dismissed to be replaced by supporters of Mr Clinton.

Mr Watkins's golf partner in the helicopter was identified as Al Maldon, the head of the White House military office, who is to be reprimanded. The golf trip was revealed when a photographer from a local paper, tipped off that a presidential trip might be in the offing, took a photograph of a Marine in full dress uniform smartly saluting the backs of the aides with their golf clubs as they entered the helicopter marked 'United States of America'.

White House aides originally said that the purpose of the trip was to scout out Holly Hills golf course in Maryland for a possible presidential visit but Dee Dee Myers, Mr Clinton's press secretary, declined to confirm this.

Under President Bush his chief of staff, John Sununu, was strongly criticised for using government planes to shuttle himself around the country on personal business.

Last year Mr Clinton signed an executive order saying that 'taxpayers should pay no more than absolutely necessary to transport government officials'.