Jul 21, 2000 - 01:12 AM

Labor Investigating Miss America's Allegations of Intimidation

By Larry Margasak Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Labor Department is investigating claims by
Miss America, Heather French, that a top Clinton administration
official tried to intimidate her into changing her congressional
testimony in support of a veterans employment and training bill
opposed by the administration.

French said in an interview Thursday that Espiridion (Al)
Borrego, assistant secretary of labor for veterans' employment
and training, "was definitely trying to shake my testimony" the
evening before the July 12 hearing.

French never vacillated in her testimony supporting the bill,
which top members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee refused
to give up despite White House opposition.

Letters from two lawmakers kicked off the investigation last
week. Rep.  Lane Evans of Illinois, the top Democrat on the
committee, demanded Borrego's resignation; Rep.  Jack Quinn of
New York, the Republican chairman of the benefits subcommittee,
sought an explanation from Labor Secretary Alexis Herman.

"The department solicitor (Henry Solano) and ethics officer
(Robert Shapiro) are conducting a thorough and efficient review
of the matter," said Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio.
"We take the allegations very seriously and we have been in
contact with the members' offices."

Borrego testified at the same hearing that key portions of the
legislation were flawed.

French, in the interview, said Borrego "never said, 'I would like
to change your opinion,'" but did say the bill "would cause more
than 3,000 veterans to lose their jobs and become homeless.  I
took that as if he was definitely trying to shake my testimony."

She described the conversation as "very uncomfortable.  I felt
they were trying to intimidate," she said.

While Borrego did not return a call requesting an interview,
Fillichio said the official "maintains that he never tried to
discourage Ms. French from testifying before the subcommittee.
Any misinterpretation of his conversation with Ms.  French was

French, the daughter of a Marine veteran wounded in Vietnam, has
made homeless veterans her cause and testified several times
before Congress about their plight.

She said that when a Labor Department official asked to speak
with her on July 11, she thought the conversation would be about
her appearance with Herman in Cincinnati at the end of last week.
Instead, she found herself on the phone with Borrego and two
other Labor Department officials, who wanted to talk about the
legislation.  Fillichio would not identify the two other

French said she has worked with Borrego previously and he knew of
her strong support for the legislation.

"He was trying to maybe soften me from my view of the bill"
supported by major veterans organizations, she said.  "It was to
me unspeakable to think I wouldn't be on the veterans' side."

French is engaged to Kentucky Lt.  Gov.  Steve Henry, a Democrat.

The day after the hearing, Quinn wrote Herman that Borrego tried
to persuade French to change her mind "after she had already
submitted her written testimony."

Quinn told Herman that the Labor official "misrepresented what
the subcommittee's legislation would do, insisted that French
furnish him a copy of her testimony in advance of the hearing and
told French that since she would be appearing with you at a
function ... it would make her support of the ...  bill even more

Evans wrote Borrego the day of the hearing to demand his
resignation.  Evans said the subcommittee staff informed him that
Borrego "suggested" to French "that her appearance before the
subcommittee may not be in her best interest."

Borrego also criticized provisions that already had been removed
from the legislation, which is still before the Veterans' Affairs
Committee, she said.

The 21st Century Veterans Employment and Training Act would
provide priority to certain veterans in all federally funded
employment and training programs.  It also would require
government contractors to take affirmative action to employ
qualified veterans, set an appropriations level for veterans'
employment and training and provide grants to states for their

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