A major high-tech corporation is promoting a billion-dollar
merger between one of its top U.S. suppliers and a foreign firm, against the
wishes of Pentagon officials who believe the deal will jeopardize sensitive
satellite technology. The new President, in office only a few months, had vowed
during his campaign to tighten industrial security in the wake of alleged leaks
to hostile countries. Members of the President’s party in Congress are worried
by the proposed merger, too.
But then the big
American company that wants the deal to go through wangles a private meeting
for its executives with the President’s chief political adviser. They explain
their plight to the adviser, whose assistance one of them later describes as
Despite continuing opposition from the Defense Department,
the White House soon approves the merger. The high-tech corporation’s stock
shoots up as a result.
Within a few weeks, the Associated Press reports that the
President’s political adviser still owned between $100,000 and $250,000 worth
of the high-tech firm’s stock at the time he met with its executives to discuss
the merger. Questions are raised as to whether the adviser, one of the most
powerful officials in the administration, has blatantly violated the Ethics in
Apprised of this embarrassing news, the President insists
that his confidence in his political adviser “has never been higher.” His press
secretary brusquely dismisses a proposed Congressional investigation of the
incident. “I think the American people are tired of these open-ended
investigations and fishing expeditions …. The White House does not believe that
would serve the public well.”
Those remarks sound as if they’d been made sometime during
the Clinton years, but they are, of course, the words of Bush spokesman Ari
Fleischer. He and his boss were speaking in defense of Karl Rove, whose meeting
with Intel executives seeking approval of a controversial merger has caused all
of them some mild shame lately.
It isn’t hard to imagine the thermonuclear blast of outrage
that would have consumed George Stephanopoulos or John Podesta if they had ever
done what Karl Rove admittedly did. In fact, it isn’t hard to imagine the
entire scenario as the replay of a Clinton-era scandal, except that in this
case there might be substance behind the suspicions.
And there is another obvious difference as well: Had a
Clinton adviser conducted himself with so little attention to ethics statutes,
the Congressional investigation would already be under way, encouraged by
righteous editorials and ceaseless ranting on talk radio and cable television.
But then we all know that the Clinton-era rules don’t apply to the people who
promised to return “honor and integrity” to the White House.
Conservatives in Congress were worried about the
national-security implications of the merger between Silicon Valley Group, an
important Intel supplier that produces optics for spy satellites, and ASM
Lithography, a Dutch company. According to a report in the Washington Times on April 25, they viewed the White House response
as a test of the President’s “campaign promise to tighten the spigot on
American weapons-related technology flowing overseas.” The right-wing daily
quoted a senior Republican staffer as saying, “We will learn a lot about this
administration from this decision.”
How prophetic that anonymous staffer was. Not only did we
learn a lot about the Bush White House, but we have also learned something
about Congressional conservatives, who have remained silent ever since Mr.
Rove’s ties to Intel were exposed. Apparently there’s no reason to worry about
national security and export controls when a big-time Republican is getting
Likewise, the leading pundits and editorial sages who
scorched Clintonian ethical breaches haven’t been able to fire themselves up
about Mr. Rove and Intel. While The
Washington Post , for example, chided the Bush adviser for failing to divest
his stock in a timely manner, its editorial warned against any Congressional
investigation sponsored by Democrats. The
Post editors noticed that the Intel case is only one among several
instances when Bush officials have evidently breached ethical standards.
Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who thinks Social Security and Medicare should
be abolished, made millions by holding onto his Alcoa stock in defiance of
those standards. Mr. Rove and others held Enron Corporation stock while they
consulted the energy giant’s executives on national policy.
But The Post sees no need for anything more than
self-policing here. “Having rightly
announced high standards,” the paper pleaded, “these folks should just
live up to them.”
Majority Leader Tom Daschle agrees. He has promised not to do anything that
resembles “payback” for the Republican investigative abuses of recent years. He
evidently hopes this milquetoast approach will herald a new golden age of
That kind of whimsical pap must make Mr. Daschle’s
adversaries laugh. They think he is telling them that they can get away with
anything, and they will surely take him at his word.