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.
On July 1 air force officials sent a memo to members of the Senate committee in which they acknowledged that Jones had been overpaid. "Air force records relevant to this issue are incomplete and, in some cases, we believe incorrect," the memo stated. "However, based on the best information we have been able to obtain, it appears that the air force should probably have terminated ACIP in December 1993 rather than in July 1995. Payments of ACIP up to July 1995 reflect an error on the part of the air force."
The officials estimated that Jones mistakenly received $1443. "To avoid any question of receiving money not properly due," the memo continued, "the department will complete a thorough audit and Mr. Jones has offered to repay any amount of ACIP found to have been paid in error."
Committee members, however, are not satisfied with this report. One armed services source claims that their own investigation of the pay issue suggests Jones was aware he was being overpaid yet resisted early attempts to recover the money.
The air force memo regarding Jones's pay addresses another potentially embarrassing problem for the South Miami-Dade state senator. For the past five years Jones has been wearing "command pilot wings" on his air force reserve uniform. According to the memo, in 1993 Jones was notified by air force officials that he had accumulated the requisite amount of experience to wear "command" wings when in fact he had not. "Mr. Jones will resume wearing senior pilot wings," the memo stated. "The air force will rescind the aeronautical order that awarded Mr. Jones command pilot wings and restore him to an aeronautical rating of senior pilot."
Although it may seem to be a trivial matter, wearing a pair of wings that has not been earned is a serious matter among military professionals. According to the memo, the air force accepts the blame for both the flight-pay and command-wings errors. "They are trying to protect Jones," one Senate source says. "They are trying to absolve him of responsibility for these issues."
"Clearly Jones has a lot of room to hide here because the air force has taken the blame," adds another Senate source. "But it is still something that Jones is going to have to deal with."
Jones's critics maintain he should have known he was not entitled to wear command pilot wings and he should have known he was being overpaid. Pilots, they note, keep very close track of their flight hours and an even closer eye on their pay. They argue that if Jones can't adequately monitor his own actions, how can he possibly oversee a branch of the service with a $62 billion budget and more than 600,000 employees worldwide?
Jones also faces more questions about his role in a Dade County bond deal. He testified during his June 16 confirmation hearing that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing and that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which launched a review of that $200 million transaction, was no longer scrutinizing his conduct in securing the deal for Miami Beach-based Douglas James Securities.
On June 22 the Armed Services Committee met in executive session with representatives of the SEC. According to sources familiar with that briefing, not all the committee's questions were answered, and doubts lingered about whether Jones was still under review.
Senate staffers are poring over other answers Jones provided during his June 16 hearing, in search of additional inconsistencies. According to several sources, they've found at least one: Jones claimed to have "more than 2000 hours" flying time as a fighter pilot. The true number is now believed to be less than 1200 hours.
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This week's Armed Services Committee hearing is expected to end with Jones himself appearing before a far more critical committee. His chief opponents remain senators John Warner (R-Va.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Even before controversy involving flight pay, command wings, and flying hours surfaced, Inhofe said he was troubled by Jones's nomination. "The little white lies that continue to come out bother me," the senator recently told reporters. "There are a number of these. Each one individually could be explained away, but altogether it raises a concern." Inhofe said he had developed "a negative impression of Daryl Jones and his capabilities."
The senator argued that the air force deserved the most qualified candidate available. "You are talking about the Secretary of the Air Force," he emphasized. "So when you have someone in that position and there are hundreds of people out there who are qualified, I would hate to have someone in there who might send the wrong message down the ranks.