THE DISSENT OF FLIGHT 800
Al Gore is being sued by a commissioner who doesn't buy the easy explanation that TWA 800 was brought down by mechanical failure. Was Gore bought off by airline campaign giving?
by John B. Roberts II
When he was putting together his White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security late last July, after the explosion of TWA 800, Bill Clinton took the trouble to call Victoria Cummock personally and ask her to join. Cummock, who had lost her husband over Lockerbie on Pan Am 103 eight years before, seemed a solid, logical choice. Since her husband's death she had devoted so much time and effort to improving airline safety that Newsday labeled her "the airlines' most tenacious foe." Aboard Air Force One -- en route to a New York appearance to share the grief of the families of TWA 800's victims -- the president convinced Cummock that he sincerely wanted to develop stringent new counter-terrorism measures for America's airlines. Vice President Al Gore, he added, would head the new Commission. She agreed to join.
Now Victoria Cummock has filed suit in federal court against Gore and the Department of Transportation, charging that the vice president pressured her to abandon her call for counter-terrorism measures and refused to publish a 42-page dissent she had filed, despite promising her publicly at the Commission's last meeting that her dissent would be included in the official report. Her suit demands access to the internal memos and files she claims Gore's staff withheld from the commissioners, so that if necessary a new dissent can be prepared. Al Gore, she believes, sold her out.
Cummock may well have a case. Federal Election Commission (FEC) documents show that the airlines contributed nearly $500,000 in soft money to the Democratic Party after Clinton chartered the aviation commission in the days following the crash. The president charged Gore with developing initial counter-terrorism recommendations within 45 days -- well before the November election. But such recommendations might well have led to sweeping new security measures that could have cost the airlines as much as $1 billion. Instead the airlines began contributing money to the Clinton-Gore coffers -- and Gore abandoned his call for new anti-terrorism measures.
Perhaps not coincidentally, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) head Jim Hall emerged not long after to announce that the crash of Flight 800 was due to mechanical failure -- the one hypothesis for which there is as yet no physical evidence. Hall took the unusual step of giving background briefings to reporters at major newspapers to help spread the mechanical failure hypothesis. What none of these papers reported is that the NTSB chairmanship is a political appointment -- and that Hall is a longtime Gore crony.
Did Al Gore sell out the Commission for a few more campaign bucks?
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