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This week Daryl Jones is headed into combat -- Washington-style. In yet another sign that Jones's nomination to become Secretary of the Air Force is in serious trouble, Strom Thurmond, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has decided to reopen Jones's confirmation hearing so that several members of Jones's former fighter squadron can appear before the committee to testify against him.
The public hearing will take place this morning (Thursday, July 16) and will concentrate almost exclusively on questions regarding Jones's character and whether he lied to senators on June 16 during his initial appearance before the committee.
"It seems like the questions regarding Jones have reached a critical mass," says one Republican Senate staffer. "We are going to do this in an open session so everyone interested can see for themselves. We are going to put some faces behind these allegations and try to get to the truth." Another Republican staffer acknowledged that the new committee session will be crucial for Jones. "I think this hearing could put him under," the staffer noted.
Last week the tension surrounding the upcoming hearing increased dramatically when Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) told the Miami Herald that Jones's opponents are "giving him a hard time for two reasons -- he's a Clinton appointee and he is a black man who has a record he can stand on." Meek went on to say that the opposition to Jones "tinges on racism."
Although it is true that Jones's critics on the committee have been Republicans, he also enjoys some Republican support. It's also true that the most troubling issues concerning his nomination have arisen from his own testimony. For example, during his original confirmation hearing last month, Jones made several assertions that have since come under attack. Among them: He denied he'd been told by his commanding officer in 1991 that he would be grounded because he had become a danger to himself and others while flying. Instead Jones testified that he had voluntarily stopped flying.
After Jones's testimony, several former members of his unit told New Times that Jones had been untruthful. Retired lieutenant colonels Jack Connelly and David Eastis contradicted Jones's version of events. Connelly recalled that he was present during an August 1991 meeting between Jones and their squadron's commanding officer, Col. Thomas Dyches, in which Dyches told Jones he had made the decision to ground the flyer. "Colonel Dyches wanted a witness when he confronted Daryl, so he asked me to be there," Connelly recounted. "Colonel Dyches told him, 'Daryl, you are no longer going to be able to fly my planes.' He told him, 'Daryl you are not flying any more.'" He called Jones's testimony before the Armed Services Committee "a lie." Lieutenant Colonel Eastis corroborated Connelly's account and added that he too had recommended that Jones's flying privileges be revoked.
Eastis and Connelly will testify before the Armed Services Committee, as will Dyches, who is also expected to repudiate Jones's statements and whose testimony could prove to be the most damaging.
On June 16 Jones also told senators he had never pressured air force personnel to purchase Amway products from him. But Tom Massey, a retired major who flew with Jones in the early Eighties, was subsequently quoted in these pages as saying that Jones's Amway testimony was "a flat lie."
"A number of the enlisted men came to me and asked me if I could get Daryl off their backs," asserted Massey, who now lives in Clemson, South Carolina. "Several of us talked to Daryl about it. We told him that it was a court-martial offense. I was speaking to him officer to officer, captain to captain." Jones allegedly refused to listen. "He just dismissed it," Massey added. "He gave us the impression that he didn't think the rules applied to him." The Armed Services Committee has summoned Massey to Washington for the hearing.
Another witness called by the committee is Maj. Alan Estis, who retired last year from his air force reserve unit in protest over Jones's nomination by President Clinton. Estis served with Jones, Dyches, Eastis, and Connelly in the early Nineties, and he maintains that Jones is not fit to be Secretary of the Air Force because he refuses to take responsibility for his own actions.
After learning last week that he would be questioned by the Senate committee, Estis said he was a bit "apprehensive" but looked forward to having all issues regarding Jones come to light. "When that committee hearing starts, those senators are going to see five officers who between us have more than 100 years of military service, and they are going to get the truth about the person they are considering to be Secretary of the Air Force," Estis declared. "It's not a race issue. This has nothing to do with his race. It has to do with his lack of accountability and his character."
In addition to the five officers, the committee is also calling Dan Moreno, an enlisted man who works at Homestead Air Force Base and is responsible for overseeing payroll records. As reported here last month, senators have become concerned about a new allegation that Jones continued to receive bonus flight pay -- known as Aviation Career Incentive Pay (ACIP) -- even after he was grounded.