Washington On the eve of her House testimony in support of a veterans employment bill, Miss America Heather French says a high-ranking Clinton administration official was "trying to intimidate" her into changing her position.
While French did not waver in testifying July 12 for a bill the administration opposed, the Republican chairman of a Veterans' Affairs subcommittee has demanded an explanation from Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, and the panel's top Democrat has told the official to resign.
French said in an interview Thursday that she spoke in a conference call July 11 with Espiridion Borrego, assistant secretary of Labor for veterans' employment and training, and two other Labor Department officials. The officials had asked to speak with her, but she said she did not know the topic would be the legislation.
Borrego testified the next day in opposition to key sections of the bill, which would make major changes in veterans training and employment programs. The Labor Department, not the Department of Veterans Affairs, has jurisdiction over these veterans' issues.
"He (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," French said. "I took that as if he was definitely trying to shake my testimony."
The conversation was "very uncomfortable. I felt they were trying to intimidate," said French, who is engaged to Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry, a Democrat.
Borrego did not return a telephone call requesting an interview. Carl Fillichio, the Labor Department spokesman, said Borrego "maintains that he never tried to discourage French from testifying before the subcommittee. Any misinterpretation of his conversation with French was regrettable."
Fillichio said the department was in contact with the committee members and that the department's solicitor and ethics officer "are conducting a thorough and efficient review of the matter."
The day after the hearing, Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on benefits, wrote Herman that Borrego tried to convince 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 problematical."
He said Borrego's conduct was "outrageous" and that it "undermines the integrity of the ... hearing process."
Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, wrote Borrego to demand his resignation the day of the hearing.