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Pentagon Pushes Ahead Amid Leadership Question

January 20, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House asked Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn to be defense secretary, but the conservative Democrat turned down the offer, according to a published report.

Nunn, D-Ga., was offered the position last week, according to a New York Times article published Thursday that cited administration and Pentagon sources.

Although retired Adm. Bobby Inman didn’t publicly withdrew his nomination until Tuesday, officials said President Clinton had been given advance word of his decision.

Nunn, who was in Georgia Wednesday, said through his spokesman Scott Williams that he had no comment.

When Clinton was elected, Nunn was mentioned as a possible nominee for defense secretary or secretary of state. But Clinton turned to Les Aspin in December of 1992.

In the early days of the Clinton administration, Nunn challenged his fellow southern Democrat over Clinton’s campaign pledge to end the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. After months of negotiations, Clinton was forced to settle for a ″don’t ask, don’t tell″ policy based largely on what Nunn had proposed.

Nunn has also warned the administration about pursuing deep cuts in defense spending.

The surprise withdrawal Inman, nominated last month to replace Aspin, left many in the Pentagon shaking their heads Wednesday. And it prompted expressions of concern from a former secretary.

″You’ve got a major problem because the administration, in effect, doesn’t have its national security team in place ... (and) we’re a full year into the administration,″ former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said in an interview with CNN. ″It’s a major post, and to have it, in effect, leaderless at a time like this is a serious problem.″

But officials close to Aspin, who had resigned last month under pressure and was supposed have left by Jan. 20, said Inman’s withdrawal Tuesday appeared to have energized him and offered him some time to wrap up several pet projects.

Defense Department spokeswoman Kathleen deLaski said Aspin will go ahead with plans to appear on Capitol Hill in defense of the administration’s fiscal 1995 defense budget, and hearings are expected to be held in early February.

″He’s pleased he’s going to be able to finish the cycle on the budget,″ she said.

Some in the Pentagon were hoping Clinton would look favorably on Deputy Defense Secretary William Perry for the top job, noting he is a known quantity and well regarded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Other prospects widely mentioned at the time of the Aspin resignation included James Woolsey, CIA director, and Norm Augustine, who runs the defense contractor Martin-Marietta Corp. Names from Capitol Hill included former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, and James Courter, a former GOP congressman from New Jersey and chairman of the government’s base closure committee.

A congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said speculation also centered on a Cabinet shuffle in which Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen would replace Aspin.

Aspin has told the White House he will remain in office as long as he is needed, which could be for some weeks. Officials indicate the naming of a new nominee is not imminent.

On Wednesday morning, Aspin chaired a high-level meeting on the state of readiness of the nation’s military, and a report on the subject is expected by the end of the month, officials said.

Aspin has told his aides he wants to produce a ″posture statement″ on the nation’s forces, which was done years ago when he worked as an analyst in the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

Such a report deals with the nation’s military and security strategy and could offer a wealth of statistical data on the forces in the field, one military officer said.

Aspin was attending a farewell dinner Wednesday evening hosted by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition John Deutch, a longtime Aspin friend. Top department appointees also were attending.

The secretary was the guest of honor Tuesday evening at a farewell dinner at the private quarters of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili.

It was attended by the other members of the Joint Chiefs, and most of the regional military commanders of U.S. forces around the world.

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