Joe Conason

A daily political Web log, updated as circumstances demand.

By Salon Staff
Published July 10, 2002 6:31PM (EDT)

Of foxes, henhouses and Halliburton
An amusing aspect of the Harken furor is the very forgiving attitude of certain conservative commentators, who have misplaced the suspicion and skepticism (and in some cases, paranoia) they displayed during the Whitewater era. The Wall Street Journal editorial page today denounces what it calls "the Harken ploy," while a longer, more detailed version of the same apologia is available at National Review Online. Byron York competently presents the Bush defense, but both he and the Journal editorialists omit suggestive facts that would have enraged them during the Clinton years -- notably, that the SEC investigation was conducted while that agency was under the control of Bush family friends and appointees. These are the same people, after all, who blasted the universally respected Republican prosecutor Robert Fiske for imaginary conflicts of interest when he served as Whitewater special counsel. I imagine Paul Gigot and his Journal edit board are still figuring out a convincing justification for the immaculate quality of the SEC's Bush investigation, even though it was overseen by Bush's own former lawyer and his father's former aide.

For a more nuanced conservative view -- albeit with obligatory references to the sinister cultural influence of Bill Clinton's sex life  see Robert A. George's piece.

Speaking of Clinton, he (or part of him) is presently on exhibit in another funny scandal sideshow. According to pundits as erudite as George and as lowbrow as Rush Limbaugh, the most significant cause of corporate corruption wasn't executive stock options or inflated accounting fees. It was Clinton's penis! I can almost hear a clever lawyer presenting this defense to the Enron jury someday, if and when any of Bush's buddies down in Houston are indicted: "Yes, my client falsified the company's financials and stole the stockholders blind, but he did all those terrible things because of ... well, ladies and gentlemen, because of the former president's private parts."

Pitt on the all-important "destruction policy"
I don't feel obliged to take this right-wing psychobabble too seriously, but I will mention one Clinton appointee: Arthur Levitt Jr., probably the toughest SEC chairman in the history of that agency. The SEC is in different paws now, with foxy Harvey Pitt overseeing that crowded henhouse. If you would like to understand why John McCain thinks Pitt should quit, try looking up "When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies: A Crisis Management Primer."

That's the title of a January 1994 article co-authored by Pitt in the Cardozo Law Review, in which he advised that "each company should have a system of determining the retention and destruction of documents. Ask executives and employees to imagine all of their documents in the hands of a zealous regulator or on the front page of the New York Times. Obviously, once a subpoena has been issued or is about to be issued, any existing destruction policy should be brought to an immediate halt." Oh, obviously. But up until that critical moment, shred any scrap that's remotely incriminating, right? Somehow, Bush thinks Pitt is the man to enforce his administration's tough new policy toward corporate wrongdoers. You have to wonder whether the president actually has any idea how ridiculous this looks.

Klayman: Nobody's punch line
It will be interesting to see how Pitt, if he remains in office, handles the probe of Dick Cheney's reign at Halliburton. Pitt represented Arthur Andersen, the accounting company used by Halliburton when Cheney was CEO and the company added those disputed cost-overruns to the bottom line. Will Pitt have to recuse himself? Can political appointees at the SEC (or the Justice Department) plausibly investigate the vice president? When Al Gore was in office, conservatives fretted constantly about such problems.

Now they don't even notice -- except for that maverick Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch, who deserves credit for behaving as if he really is nonpartisan. The 'wingers used to laugh when Klayman harassed the Clinton administration. They didn't like Larry and they envied all that Scaife money, but they loved watching him depose those Clintonites. Today, Judicial Watch sued Halliburton and Cheney for fraud, and that whistling in their ears is the sound of a boomerang.
[Posted: 1:05 p.m. PST, July 10, 2002]

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