Joe Conason's Journal

Rummy's role in North Korean nuke deal questioned. Plus: What will Santorum think of a transsexual working in the Senate?

Published April 30, 2003 3:29PM (EDT)

Rummy's deal
Not only was Donald Rumsfeld a director of ABB, the Swiss firm hired by Kim Jong Il to build nuclear reactors in North Korea, but he may also have sought Washington's help to secure the contract for the construction conglomerate. In the current issue of Fortune, Richard Behar closely scrutinizes Rumsfeld's role in the North Korean nuke deal. What he discovered demolishes the rote denials served up by Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke, who has told reporters that her boss "does not recall" any discussion of the $200 million project while he sat on the ABB board.

According to Behar, the usually very voluble secretary "declined requests by Fortune to elaborate on his role. But ABB spokesman Bjoern Edlund has told Fortune that 'board members were informed about this project.' And other ABB officials say there is no way such a large and high-stakes project, involving complex questions of liability, would not have come to the attention of the board. 'A written summary would probably have gone to the board before the deal was signed,' says Robert Newman, a former president of ABB's U.S. nuclear division who spearheaded the project. 'I'm sure they were aware.'

"The director recalls being told that Rumsfeld was asked 'to lobby in Washington' on ABB's behalf in the mid-1990s because a rival American company had complained about a foreign-owned firm getting the work. Although he couldn't provide details, Goran Lundberg, who ran ABB's power-generation business until 1995, says he's 'pretty sure that at some point Don was involved,' since it was not unusual to seek help from board members 'when we needed contacts with the U.S. government.'"

Here's the most amusing part. In March 1998, Behar reports, Rumsfeld gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation warning that the Clinton administration's 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea "does not end its nuclear menace; it merely postpones the reckoning, with no assurance that we will know how much bomb-capable material North Korea has."

By then, the framework designed to forestall a nuclear North was highly controversial in Washington, partly because Kim was known to be developing long-range missiles. That same year, Rumsfeld chaired a congressional commission on ballistic missile threats, which concluded that North Korea could strike the U.S. within five years. In a "subtle swipe" at the ABB reactor deal, the so-called Rumsfeld Commission also said that North Korea maintained its nuclear weapons program. Behar notes that "Rumsfeld's resume in the report did not mention that he was an ABB director," a position he held until 2000.

That Rummy sure is sharp. He knows how to grab the financial advantage at one end and the political opportunity at the other. And as long as nobody knew that he was working both ends, it was easy to get away with it. Such is the standard of patriotism in our nation's highest offices today.

Senate sex police alert
Since Rick Santorum's fellow Republicans in Congress and the White House have declared their unreserved support for his "inclusive" bigotry, perhaps they should now turn their narrowed eyes northward, toward Minnesota. That's where Sen. Norm Coleman has just hired a staffer named Susan Kimberly to serve as his state legislative director. The St. Paul Pioneer Press added details yesterday: "Once a liberal DFLer, Kimberly has shifted more to the right on political issues in recent years. She also is known for another notable change -- a highly publicized sex change operation in 1983. Kimberly was born Robert Sylvester and served on the City Council from 1974 to 1978."

My point is not to embarrass Coleman for hiring a transsexual; I'm glad he's got an open-minded hiring policy. But I have no idea what Scripture dictates on the subject of transsexuals, or how God has instructed the Senate leadership to cope with this touchy topic. I'm sure Santorum will have some useful advice for his colleague Coleman.
[9:15 a.m. PST, April 30, 2003]

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