Clinton aide who helped with junket is still on job


WASHINGTON -- Seven weeks after the White House said he would be reassigned for his role in the misuse of a Marine Corps helicopter, the head of the White House military office has not been disciplined and remains on the job, administration officials say.

They said Friday that the White House had found it difficult to find a successor to the official, retired Col. Alphonso Maldon Jr., and that some thought had been given to letting him stay in his post.

Colonel Maldon and his superior, David Watkins, used a presidential helicopter May 24 for a 55-mile excursion to the Holly Hills Country Club near Frederick for a round of golf.

After details of the incident became public, Mr. Watkins was dismissed and ultimately agreed to reimburse the government for the $13,000 cost of the helicopter flight; Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, then the White House chief of staff, announced on May 26 that Colonel Maldon would be reassigned.

But the slow progress in settling the status of Colonel Maldon also appears to illustrate the continued sensitivity within the White House about relations with the military.

Asked why Colonel Maldon remained on the job, White House officials on Friday praised him for having proven unusually effective as a liaison to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. They also said it had not been easy to find a successor with sufficient rank and talent.

"He's someone who knows both the White House and the military," a senior White House official said, "and that's a pretty tough combination."

Besides arranging for the use of Air Force One and other jets, Colonel Maldon schedules the helicopters from the presidential squadron maintained by the Marine Corps.

It was Colonel Maldon, White House officials have said, who arranged for the helicopter that carried him, Mr. Watkins and a Navy officer to and from the Holly Hills course near Camp David for an afternoon of golf.

But the officials said Colonel Maldon did so at the behest of Mr. Watkins, who as the White House director of administration was his direct superior.

Supporters of Colonel Maldon in the White House and on Capitol Hill now say they do not believe he should be punished for simply following orders.

Mr. McLarty, who is now the counselor to the president, did not respond to a telephone message asking for comment.

A senior White House official involved in the discussions said Mr. McLarty's reassignment last month had compounded the delay in finding a successor to Colonel Maldon. They said the decision about whether to replace him and with whom is now in the hands of Leon E. Panetta, the new White House chief of staff.

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