The Magazine


Dec 22, 1997, Vol. 3, No. 15 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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NOW THAT HIS REPUTATION has been destroyed, his remains dug up from Arlington National Cemetery and returned to San Diego, it's easy to forget the impressive audacity with which M. Larry Lawrence told lies. Below is an unexpurgated example of Lawrence in action. It comes from a 1993 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in which Lawrence regaled Sen. Harlan Matthews about his wartime exploits in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Keep in mind that the future ambassador to Switzerland spoke these words -- every one of them untrue -- with a straight face into a microphone:

I was 18 years old and I was on board the SS Horace Bushnell in a convoy to Murmansk, which was an all-volunteer run known as the "Suicide Mission." We were torpedoed 15 miles off Murmansk. I was just coming out of the hole, and everybody down below was killed. I was thrown clear. I am told - - I have no memory of what happened -- that thereafter I suffered a serious concussion and was taken in a coma, subsequently, after going in the water, to Murmansk, then Scotland, and back to New York and home. It is something I do not particularly relish remembering for the record, Senator. You know. You were there. I told them to mail me the medal, but my wife insisted that we have the ceremony.

Silence fell on the hearing room as Lawrence revealed the purpose of the suicide mission. "We were delivering food and ammunition," he explained. " That, of course, is what caused the main explosion, as the torpedo struck the ammunition."

Several senators were clearly impressed. Yet even this wasn't the whole story. Ever the bashful man of valor, Lawrence had left out his own glorious role, the part about how, while floating gravely wounded in ice-encrusted Arctic waters, he had ignored his injuries to save the lives of fellow sailors. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, reading from a crib sheet Lawrence himself had helped prepare, filled in the blanks. "He was able to rescue others," she said. "He was deemed a hero."

Four years later, with Lawrence's hoax exposed, President Clinton has asked the State Department to determine how such a whopper could have slipped through the ambassador's background check. There has been no official answer yet, though several anonymous State Department employees have offered explanations. As one official told the Washington Post, "Because we were able to go to friends, business associates, an array of people who gave us a glowing recommendation, it mitigated against having to go back and chase ghost records of Merchant Marine service." There was no reason to check the war story, the official explained, because an extensive investigation into Lawrence's past had yielded no "derogatory information."

It's not clear which "array of people" State Department investigators spoke to about Lawrence (who, just for starters, had more than two dozen cases pending against him in federal tax court at the time he was nominated). It's clear they didn't talk to many people in San Diego, where Lawrence lived and did business. Soon after the Merchant Marine story broke, the San Diego Union- Tribune sent two reporters to get reaction from people who knew Lawrence well. The reporters returned a few hours later with more derogatory information about Larry Lawrence than State Department sleuths had managed to gather in months.

"I wouldn't take his word for anything," a long-time senior vice president of Lawrence's Hotel Del Coronado told the newspaper. "He had a terrible, terrible case of vanity," said one of his pallbearers. According to Lucy Goldman, described as a close friend and former neighbor, Lawrence had a habit of dropping "little bombshells" during conversation. "I remember once we went to a rodeo together," Goldman recalled, "and Larry was sitting next to me and said, "Do you know I used to do this in Arizona?'" According to Goldman, Lawrence also claimed that he once played professional football. But State Department investigators probably already knew about the nominee's career in the NFL; Lawrence had told the same thing to Forbes magazine the year before his confirmation hearing.