How Ethical is the Bush Administration Anyway?
 by Viviva Fox and Bob Novak

For an administration that likes to quote Scripture, the situation is
fittingly biblical — an eye for an eye, do unto others, that sort of thing.
The issue is Democrats raising ethical questions about key members of
the Bush Administration, something that was rampant when the
parties were flipped during the Clinton era.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who plays foil to House
Government Reform Committee Chairman and Clinton Administration
Inquisitor Dan Burton, R- Ind., has asked Burton several times if he'll
spearhead an investigation into alleged Republican wrongdoing —
specifically, the situation of senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, who met
March 12 with Intel's chief executive and two of its lobbyists even as
he still held more than $100,000 in company stock. Rove has denied
any impropriety, with White House officials saying that the conversation
was about how the company could support the president's policies,
not about a pending merger (others don't remember it quite that way).
Until June 7, Rove also held more than $100,000 in Enron stock;
during that time he had conversations with the energy giant's CEO,
Kenneth Lay, about energy policy. His holdings in some other
companies that care about the administration's views were even larger.

Dems are also calling attention to former Alcoa chairman Paul O'Neill,
who, in his new job as Treasury Secretary, has an indisputable ability
to influence the ups and downs of the market. He didn't finish selling off
his more than $100 million in stock and options until this week, though
he promised to do so three months ago after being shamed into it. In the
interim, the stock spiked upward — O'Neill made an extra 30% by holding
on so long, according to market analysts quoted on, who said
the increase was largely as a result of the administration's energy policies.

A spokesman for Burton said Wednesday that no investigation or
hearings are planned. And the White House is refusing, for the most
part, to cooperate with a General Accounting Office investigation,
requested by Democrats, of the operations of Vice President Dick
Cheney's energy task force. In fact, much tongue-clucking has ensued
over at the White House. "We understand that there have been past,
partisan battles over investigations, but these were battles and
investigations this president and this administration were not involved
in — this president was off in Texas being governor," Bush aide Dan
Bartlett told the Washington Post.

But that belies two facts. One, the Bush Administration has actually
rewarded some of those who doggedly pursued alleged wrongdoing by
the Clinton crew with prominent administration jobs. And two, Burton
himself is still investigating Clinton-connected events, six months after
the man himself rode out of town.

The plum job of top dog in the Justice Department's criminal division
has gone to Michael Chertoff, a former U.S. Attorney who served as
GOP Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's chief counsel in his Whitewater
investigation. Ted Olson is now solicitor general, having spent part of
the last 8 years helping out with the American Spectator's zealous
prosecution of Bill Clinton —even as his wife, Barbara Olson, who used
to work for Dan Burton, appeared on a fleet of TV talk shows defending
Ken Starr's investigation of Clinton. Brett Kavanaugh, who used to
work on Starr's independent counsel probe, is now ensconced in the
White House counsel's office. And Tim Griffin, a former Burton
investigator, has been operating in a sort of free-floating capacity in
DOJ's criminal division since long before Chertoff joined up.

Most, if not all, of these individuals are smart and well-credentialed.
But their placement within the administration doesn't exactly support
Bush's theme of changing the tone in Washington.

Then there's Burton himself. He continues to pursue the matter of
Clinton's 11th-hour pardons, and maybe he should — even though
there's a serious grand jury probe already being run out of the U.S.
Attorney's office in New York. But last Friday he called a hearing on a
nine-year-old Florida case involving a former local official who says he
was abused by investigators working for Janet Reno, then the chief
prosecutor of Miami-Dade County. The alleged victim fled to Australia
after being cited for contempt of court, maybe because his car theft
report wasn't what he'd claimed and there was a lot more sex (for hire)
and drugs involved than he'd intended to reveal. Burton's staff wrote
its report on the case before the hearing, without talking to key
investigators. Why was Burton digging into this bizarre, ancient
state-level case? Skeptics have one answer: Reno is considering
running for governor against Jeb Bush in 2002.

What the Democrats want to know about Rove, O'Neill and Cheney's
task force is at least more current, and in fact involves policy and how
it's getting made. In Rove and O'Neill's favor, of course, is that there's
no evidence they took any action in order to boost the price-per-share
of companies in which they had holdings.

But they're in the awkward position of having to prove a negative:
Can they show that they haven't done anything that has personally
enriched them via the stock market? No, because nobody could.
That's why Bush's statement on his first day in office was exactly right:
He said he expected members of his administration to act legally and
ethically, adding "This means avoiding even the appearance of problems."

If he meant it, he needs to enforce it.

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