How One `Pork' Charge Hit the Front Pages

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SOMETIMES members of Congress are proud to be seen ``bringing home the bacon'' to their constituents.

But Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a freshman Democrat from Dallas, wishes a reporter for The Journal of Commerce had never written that she traded her vote for NAFTA in exchange for two C-17 aircraft to be built in her district.

Ms. Johnson denies that that is the case. Her spokeswoman, Karen Tate, says the representative reached her decision based on the broad needs of her district, not in a deal over C-17s. But since the article was distributed by anti-NAFTA forces, it has been widely repeated in the media.

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Currently, McDonnell-Douglas has an order for four C-17s and if the Defense Department is happy with them, it may order two more. Components of the C-17 are built by Vought Aircraft in Dallas, a subcontractor of McDonnell-Douglas and a major employer in Johnson's district. So if the Pentagon does decide to order two additional C-17s, Vought would benefit.

But both administration officials and a Democratic Hill aide familiar with defense procurement say it's inconceivable that an administration official made a commitment to Johnson for the two additional planes, as the article quotes her as saying. Ms. Tate says the reporter misunderstood Johnson. The reporter stands by his story.

By Tuesday, Johnson decided she needed to communicate with President Clinton about this. So Tate hopped into her 1986 Honda and headed for the White House to deliver to Clinton a copy of the letter to the editor she had sent the Journal. The next day, Clinton called Johnson. Was there anything he could do to help? he asked. Would she like a letter from him on her behalf?

Johnson assured the president she was doing fine and declined.

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