Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) accepts "full responsibility" for arranging the use of a Senate office building for a March ceremony in which the Rev. Sun Myung Moon declared himself the Messiah, a spokesman for the senator says.
But the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman released letters this week that show that organizers "deceived" Warner's office, spokesman John Ullyot said Thursday. He said the office would not have helped arrange the event "had its true nature been disclosed."
Warner, 77, did not attend the March 23 event, and he did not realize it would involve Moon, Ullyot said. At the event, the Korean-born businessman and religious leader said his teachings helped Hitler and Stalin be "reborn as new persons."
Senate rules permit private groups to use official spaces for receptions and meetings but require the sponsorship of a senator. Although the Senate Rules and Administration Committee would not reveal which senator sponsored Moon's use of a room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Warner's office acknowledged its role Tuesday to The Washington Post and released a March 11 letter to the senator from a group called Christian Voice requesting a room.
But Warner's office said Thursday that it had found two earlier letters requesting space for the same event. The Jan. 7 and Feb. 17 letters, both under the letterhead of the Washington Times Foundation, were signed by the foundation's government liaison, Gary L. Jarmin, who is also president of Christian Voice. Moon's organization owns the Washington Times.
The January letter requested a Dirksen room for Feb. 4, and the February letter rescheduled the event after ricin, a toxin, was discovered in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on Feb. 2. Both letters billed the event as the foundation's annual awards banquet to honor individuals for "exemplary service in conflict resolution and/or promoting interfaith tolerance and cooperation both here in the U.S. and in the Middle East" between Israelis and Palestinians.
Ullyot said that Warner tries to accommodate many private requests for the appropriate use of public offices but that "in this case, we were clearly deceived, as the letters show."
"Nothing in the letters suggest that this would be a Unification Church event or that it would involve Reverend Moon in any way personally, and certainly not in a bizarre, quasi-coronation ceremony using inflammatory rhetoric," Ullyot said in an interview yesterday.
Although Warner believes that aides acted appropriately given the information provided, Ullyot said, the event clearly turned out to be "inconsistent with Senate traditions," and Warner "would not have forwarded a request for this event . . . had its true nature been disclosed."
If approached by Jarmin, the foundation or Christian Voice in the future, Ullyot said, "we will decline to assist."
Christian Voice has been linked to Moon's far-flung religious and business empire over the years, with Jarmin and Christian Voice's chairman, the Rev. Robert Grant, described as supporters of Moon. A March 8 invitation to the March 23 event said the primary sponsor was the "Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace IIFWP, founded by Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon."
Jarmin said yesterday: "It's disingenuous for anybody's office to say they were not advised. . . . I refute that we tried to mislead anybody at all." After the ricin incident, the awards banquet was held elsewhere, and Moon was not present, Jarmin said. "When we rescheduled . . . many of the details about the [March 23] event itself, the nature of the event, who was going to be participating, what kinds of awards were going to be given . . . none of this stuff had been finalized."Staff writer Charles Babington and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.