Media Silence Greets Rove’s Shady Meeting

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

“quite useful.”

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

Government Act.

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

richer.

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.”

Unfortunately, Senate

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

bipartisanship.

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.