Sununu puts blame on himself, denies faulting Jewish groups


WASHINGTON -- John H. Sununu asserted yesterday he is "not blaming anybody but myself" for the controversy surrounding his travel practices and issued denials to Jewish leaders that he considered pro-Israel groups part of a vendetta against him.

The White House chief of staff issued a one-paragraph statement yesterday, saying for the first time that he held only himself responsible for recent missteps that have brought presidential rebukes and sharp restrictions on his travel privileges.

He also denied published allegations that he has blamed others for his troubles, saying it "would be a very non-constructive effort, to suggest any involvement by anyone or any groups in what has taken place or been reported."

The statement was issued shortly after Mr. Sununu had personally called the leaders of five major Jewish groups and sent a letter to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, insisting he had never suggested pro-Israel sympathizers were involved in his misfortunes.

"I value my relationship with the Jewish community," Mr. Sununu wrote to Mr. Hoenlein, adding that he appreciated the Jewish leader's interest in putting to rest "the misperceptions of the past week."

The issue was first raised in a newspaper column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak Monday in which Mr. Sununu was said to suspect that he was being attacked in part because "he is a second-generation Lebanese-American who is not fully supportive of Israel's demands on the United States."

The Washington Post reported the following day that sources close to Mr. Sununu said he believed his enemies included "those who don't like my call for evenhandedness [in U.S. policy in the Mideast], the Jewish groups."

After Mr. Hoenlein issued a protest letter Tuesday, Mr. Sununu called him Wednesday to deny that he had ever made such an assertion. He also made similar comments at a White House senior staff meeting Wednesday morning, officials said.

But newspaper columnist William Safire, who has been critical of Mr. Sununu's travel practices and who considered himself to be a target of the vendetta remarks because he is Jewish, fired back yesterday with the claim that "Mr. Sununu's scapegoating to save his neck is giving anti-Semitism a bad name."

Mr. Hoenlein said yesterday he would "accept the governor's assurances" that he did not blame Jewish groups, but some Jewish leaders said privately they doubted the initial reports were groundless.

"We are all mindful that this is a very traditional pattern of scapegoating," said one leader.

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