Rep. Dan Daniel (D-Va.), in an emotional appearance before members of the Virginia congressional delegation, told them yesterday that he had erred in accepting free airplane trips from a defense contractor whose airplanes he promoted.
Daniel, 71, the delegation's senior Democrat, said he had misinterpreted House ethics rules and that he intends to reimburse the company for the rides, according to several of his colleagues who were summoned to a closed-door meeting with Daniel.
Daniel, described by some congressmen as "misty-eyed" and emotional, blamed Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) for disclosing the trips to The Washington Post, according to one congressman who attended the meeting.
Daniel said Goldwater was carrying out "a vendetta" against him by saying that he had accepted the flights, provided by Beech Aircraft Corp., a defense contractor. Goldwater was angry with Daniel for pushing a $56.9 million contract for Beech for planes to be used by National Guard and Reserve officers.
"There is no vendetta," Goldwater said last night. "I like the man."
Daniel, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and a southern conservative, has acknowledged that he often uses Beech airplanes when he flies between here and his home district in southern Virginia. Daniel also said that the company has flown him and other congressmen to charity golf tournaments.
House ethics rules prohibit a congressmen from accepting more than $100 a year in gifts, including transportation, from companies with an interest in legislation before Congress.
Several members who attended the meeting said Daniel said he thought the trips between Washington and his home did not have to be reported because the commerical airfare from National Airport to Danville, Va., is $49, or $98 round trip.
Rep. Thomas J. Bliley (R-Va.) said that during the meeting Daniel "explained the situation to us" and said he plans to "repay the money and redo his financial disclosure form."
Another congressman said Daniel said he planned to repay Page Avjet, Beech's local distributor, for about two dozen trips in three years.
In an interview in his office yesterday afternoon, Daniel said he had asked Rep. G. William Whitehurst (R-Va.), codean of the delegation with Daniel, to convene the meeting "so I could give my side of the story that has been running in the press." The meeting was held off the House floor in a room used by Minority Whip Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
Daniel said yesterday that he would not discuss the meeting. He said he will make a statement on the subject in a newsletter to his constituents within a week.
Daniel, a former textile executive whose 17 years on the Hill have been devoid of controversy, said he had not talked to the House ethics committee about the flights. A lawyer for the committee, John Hoefer, said "the rules preclude answering" whether a complaint has been filed against a member.
One member said that after another congressman at the meeting told Daniel, "Don't worry, it hasn't been reported to the ethics committee," Daniel reponded that "it will be -- because Goldwater said he will bring the action if no one else does."
Goldwater scoffed at that last night, saying, "God no, I never said anything like that. What's ethical about it?" Goldwater said the issue was "whether the Pentagon was going to be required to buy the planes by competitive bidding."
He said he and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) walked out of a House-Senate conference on the defense appropriation bill to protest Daniel's proposal that would have allowed the purchase of 24 Beech C12s without competitive bidding. Goldwater said, "The next day Daniel came back with a proposal that was satisfactory to me" that set out specifications for a contract.
Daniel said "the most important question" is the reaction of residents of his 5th Congressional District. The answer, he went on, is "predictable. My supporters are saying, 'look at what those liberal reporters are trying to do to my congressman,' and my political opponents say, 'See, I told you so.' "
Asked if he would retire after this session, Daniel reportedly told the members of his delegation: "I won't be hounded out of office." In an interview later, he said, "If my chances [of seeking a 10th term] were 50 percent last week, they're 75 percent this week."