A conservative activist told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that he encountered Defense Secretary-designate John Tower in an inebriated condition on several occasions accompanied by women other than his wife.
The witness, Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, has opposed Tower's nomination on grounds he is soft on "Star Wars." Tuesday Weyrich questioned whether Tower had the moral character to oversee the Pentagon reforms that President Bush has promised he would initiate."I have made enough personal observations of this man here in Washington to have serious reservations about his moral character," Weyrich said.
Weyrich claimed that Bush's transition team received hundreds of letters criticizing Tower, some containing specific allegations of "moral impropriety" against the nominee, but did not bring the letters to the president's attention.
Weyrich said he never saw the letters, but "I have encountered the senator in a condition lacking sobriety as well as with women he was not married to."
"The encounters occurred frequently enough to make an impression. I did encounter this on a number of occasions," he said.
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the panel, immediately suggested that discussions of any information Weyrich had on the nominee's personal life be taken up in a closed session scheduled Tuesday afternoon. Tower was to testify in that session.
Tower was dogged by allegations of drinking and womanizing before his nomination was announced by Bush. In divorce papers filed by his second wife, Lila Burt Cummings, Tower was accused of "marital misconduct."
Bush has defended Tower, saying an FBI background check found nothing that would prevent him from serving as defense secretary.
Tower, a 63-year-old Texas Republican, served 24 years in the Senate, including a brief tenure as chairman of the Armed Services Committee from 1981-84.
"He considers SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) a bargaining chip. We don't," Weyrich has said previously. "He's not in favor of military reform. We think military reform is necessary particularly in this year of budget crunch."
Tower told the committee last week he does not "believe that we can devise an umbrella that can protect the entire American population from nuclear incineration. I think that's unrealistic."
Tower said a more limited system might work but cautioned that "it remains to be seen whether that is a realistic objective."
In his two days of testimony, Tower also pledged to remain objective in Pentagon decision-making despite receiving more than $1 million in consulting fees from defense contractors.
But William Jackson, a senior fellow and associate professor at the Fulbright Institute of International Relations at the University of Arkansas, questioned Tower's pledge.
"Mr. Tower is the wrong man for this job at this time," Jackson said in a telephone interview Monday.