Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter attempted to downplay the recent criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for using an autopen rather than personally signing letters to families of American troops killed in Iraq, by restating a false allegation that former President Bill Clinton "sold" burial plots in Arlington National Cemetery to top-level Democratic Party donors. In her December 22 nationally syndicated column, Coulter wrote: "As president, Clinton sold burial plots in Arlington Cemetery and liberals shrugged it off. What really gets their goat is the autopen." In reality, Clinton granted a burial plot to only one top-level Democratic donor who had received it not because of his donations, but because of his military record, which was only later discovered to be a fabrication.
An article in the December 8, 1997, issue of Insight on the News magazine (a sister publication of The Washington Times) first brought attention to the story, reporting that "dozens of big-time political donors or friends of the Clintons" had been unjustly granted waivers by the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs to be interred at Arlington and other national cemeteries.
In response to this allegation, on November 21, 1997, then-Army Secretary Togo West released a list of the 69 individuals who had been granted waivers to be buried at Arlington since 1993; only four of which had been granted by Clinton, according to a November 22, 1997, Los Angeles Times article. The remaining waivers were granted by Secretary West and other high-ranking army officials. The Times report quoted a statement from the Democratic National Committee which read in part: "No major donors to the DNC, except [former U.S.] Ambassador [to Switzerland] Larry Lawrence, have received exceptions for burial at Arlington National Cemetery."
The allegations that burial plots were "sold" were quickly shown to be false, and widely denounced as among the most vicious of the Republicans' many smears of then-President Clinton. Ted Koppel said on the December 5, 1997, edition of ABC's Nightline that the "mudslinging" showed "Washington had hit a new low" and that "there is absolutely no evidence that the Clinton administration ever sold or approved or recommended that burial plots at Arlington National Cemetery be made available to major campaign donors." New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted on November 22, 1997: "The Republican investigators for the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee were so sloppy that they had not even checked for any contribution records of the nine exemptions they called 'suspicious' before Republican leaders began ranting about them." And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted in a November 29, 1997, editorial that after West released the list of waivers, "the baying and howling from Republicans was replaced with an embarrassed silence," and concluded: "This mean-spirited debacle is indeed a national disgrace. It is an insult to the sacrifice and memories of all those interred at Arlington, especially those who we accused of arriving there as the result of anything but exemplary service to their nation."
Upon further investigation, it was determined that Lawrence -- who died in January 1996 in Switzerland, nearly three years after being appointed and confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland in 1993 -- had fabricated his service in World War II, unbeknownst to Clinton, the State Department, and the senators at his confirmation hearing for the ambassadorship. A December 10, 1997, New York Times article reported that documents inside a State Department file confirmed that Lawrence had earned credits at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago in the spring of 1945. This contradicted his claim that he had been injured while serving on a Merchant Marine ship that had been torpedoed in the Arctic Ocean in March 1945. According to the Times article: "that contradiction was never picked up during a background check by the State Department in 1993, even though Mr. Lawrence had said in his Senate confirmation process that he had served on a torpedoed ship, the Horace Bushnell."
A December 8, 1997, Washington Post article reported that even though the authenticity of Lawrence's military record was (at the time) being questioned, the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery, John C. Meltzer Jr. -- who made initial recommendations for waivers -- would have recommended that Lawrence receive a waiver based on his service as an ambassador. According to the Post article: "The superintendent, a career civil servant, said in a telephone interview late Saturday that he would have cleared Lawrence because U.S. ambassadors from previous administrations have been granted exceptions."
Nevertheless, as The New York Times reported on December 12, 1997, Lawrence's remains were exhumed and removed from Arlington National Cemetery at the behest of his widow.
Since "the best liberals are going to give me to argue about this week is Autopen-gate," Coulter wrote, she would also include in her column what she claimed was an interview she gave to an Italian periodical in October 2004, that never ran in the United States. Portions of the "interview" are excerpted below:
Interview by Carlos Baroni, Oriana d'America, Italy, October 2004
Q: Many liberals are rich, come from the East Coast, are white, studied at the Ivy [League] university. You are rich (I hope), come from Connecticut, are white and studied at Cornell. Why do you hate the liberals?
A: [COULTER] Because I know so many of them. Liberals are clueless, amoral sexual degenerates, communists and pacifists -- no offense to you or your readers intended, of course.
Q: Why do Europeans prefer liberals than conservatives?
A: Because you're all a bunch of atheists, humanists and moral relativists. Love the food, though! And don't get me started on the shoes you wonderful people make! They're to surrender for!
Q: Who will win the elections 2004?
A: That's for the Supreme Court to sort out, you ignorant foreigner.
Q: If Kerry should win, what will the changes in the USA be?
A: He's got this exciting new plan for Iraq I think you Italians may have heard of. It's called "unconditional surrender." Today, Christianity is legal and gay marriage is illegal. If Kerry wins, these will be reversed.
Q: Does tolerant Islam exist or not?
A: If it does exist, it's keeping an extremely low profile.
Q: What is your opinion about the center-left leader in Europe? [Spanish Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez] Zapatero, [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair, [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder?
A: Zapatero is Spanish for "Chamberlain." I would campaign for Blair for U.S. president. Schroeder -- what is the Italian word for "scumbag"?