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Before Larry Littwin is subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Harriet Miers should withdraw her nomination. If she does not, the threat is that the Bush administration may unravel before one year is complete in the second term.
Larry Littwin sits at the center the Texas Lottery Commission scandals that Harriet Miers has helped keep covered up for nearly 10 years. The moment Larry Littwin begins to testify under oath, he is going to bring forward a volume of detail and possibly even documents that threaten to bring down the Bush presidency itself. Make no mistake about it – Larry Littwin is the John Dean of the George W. Bush presidency.
Who is Larry Littwin? On June 10, 1997, the Austin American-Statesman announced that the Texas Lottery Commission had voted to hire Lawrence Littwin of New York to be its new executive director. The lottery was embroiled in a scandal involving GTECH, the Rhode Island company operating the lottery, over a kickback and illegal political influence scheme that ended up with J. David Smith, GTECH’s national sales manager, being convicted of federal felonies in a plot that involved Ben Barnes, the former Texas lieutenant governor and lobbyist whom GTECH was paying $3 million a year to make sure the company kept the Texas contract. The previous executive director, Nora Linares, was fired when it was learned that GTECH was paying her boyfriend in New Mexico $6,000 a month to be a “consultant.”
Littwin was hired from a field of 700 applicants. He was to be paid an annual salary of $100,000, largely because of his credentials working 25 years for Control Data, including time spent with CD’s subsidiary’s lottery company, Automated Wagering International, or AWI.
In 1991, GTECH had won the contract by bidding against AWI. In June 1997, when Littwin was hired, Automated Waging International, now spun-off from Control Data, sensed that the GTECH scandal was an opportunity to get the Texas contract away from the Rhode Island firm. When Littwin was hired, the Texas Lottery Commission was in the process of putting the GTECH contract out to bid, even though it did not expire until 2002. By June 1997, AWI was GTECH’s leading competitor around the country. Seen from GTECH’s perspective, the Texas Lottery Commission had hired the enemy.
Determined to hit the ground running, Littwin almost immediately opened the window for competitive bids. AWI announced a bid would be made. Next, Littwin moved to begin a thorough records search within the Lottery Commission, aimed at uncovering any patterns of influence peddling or corruption. When it became apparent that Littwin was going to examine Democratic Party campaign contributions, Commissioner Harriet Miers seemed initially supportive.
On Sept. 18, 1997, the Dallas Morning News reported that Miers said Littwin “is doing the right thing for the right reason.” Littwin was investigating Barnes, who is a Democrat. Miers was the personal attorney of Gov. George W. Bush, who appointed her chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission in 1995.
Then, on Sept. 21, 1997, the Dallas Morning News reported that Bush was becoming nervous.
“I don’t think any of us understand what [Littwin] was doing,” Bush told the paper. “If in fact he was gathering data to try to embarrass a member of the House or Senate or the executive branch, it’s inappropriate behavior. I just don’t understand what was gong on there, and I don’t think anybody does yet. I think that’ll be clarified by the commission.”
Littwin soon became armed with a state auditor’s report that cited irregularities involving GTECH. He was moving fast, apparently with determination to uncover the corruption wherever he found it.
On Oct. 29, 1997, the commission clarified the situation by voting to fire Littwin, though he had been on the job less than five full months. Littwin objected, loudly. On Oct. 30, 1997, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Littwin believed he was being fired for political reasons.
“The commission really showed little or no backbone in dealing with the political process in the state of Texas,” Littwin said. “Everybody got very upset when I started to look at GTECH’s campaign contributions. I think I stirred up concerns that perhaps something might be going on.”
The Houston Chronicle reported on the same day Littwin’s claims that the competitive bidding process would not succeed.
“In every state where GTECH has been present and the lottery director has not become a close friend of theirs, something happens to the lottery director before the procurement process is complete,” he told the Houston paper.
GTECH sued for breach of contract, refusing to bid in the open competition. On Feb. 19, 1998, the Texas Lottery Commission voted to end the competitive bidding and stay with GTECH, just as Littwin predicted. The commission had received three competitive bids, including one from AWI, a bid AWI claimed would have saved the commission $92 million over five years, plus a new computer system AWI would have installed at its expense.
Littwin hired a lawyer who sued GTECH in federal court. He pressed to get a deposition from Harriet Miers, but she resisted the subpoena. A federal magistrate ruled that Miers did not have to testify. Still, Littwin succeeded in taking a deposition with Ben Barnes.
Under oath, Ben Barnes discussed his alleged involvement with helping Bush get into the National Guard to avoid Vietnam and his political influence peddling for GTECH. Littwin won. GTECH settled out-of-court, agreeing to pay Littwin $300,000. As a condition of the settlement, Littwin agreed to destroy all documents produced by the litigation, including any copies he may have had of the Barnes deposition. The Barnes deposition in the Littwin case has never come to light.
Mr. Littwin is now 70 years old, and he resides in New York City. If he is subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has told reporters he will testify. The Senate’s subpoena will trump any silence clause of the wrongful termination settlement. If any remaining copies of the Barnes deposition can be found, the deposition will come to light when Littwin testifies to the Senate under oath.
The truth is had Bush been fully candid about his National Guard service, few would have cared, even if the full truth was not entirely favorable. During the Vietnam War, most who got into the National Guard got in because of political pull. Moreover, Bush could have argued that after he got into the Guard, he got more serious. He learned to fly combat aircraft and he volunteered for Vietnam. But during the 1995 gubernatorial election, Bush responded to questions by saying that his family did not use influence to get him in the Guard.
Bill Clinton’s problem was not having sex with an intern in the Oval Office; the problem was that he lied about it under oath. Bill Clinton lied because he was trying to cover up the sex. Lies are always dangerous, and cover-ups are always a bad path to follow. Maintaining lies requires cover-ups, and cover-ups often attract shady characters that are prone to be loose with the law. Cover-ups, quite simply, are dangerous to maintain.
George Bush, in nominating Harriet Miers, should have been advised not to open the Texas scandals can of worms unless he was prepared to deal with what might come out. The moment Larry Littwin is subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the worms that threaten to come out will give President Bush’s critics, including John Kerry and his principal supporter, Ted Kennedy, enough ammunition to reopen the question. Kerry undoubtedly is still feeling raw over the questioning of his war record undertaken by the Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth and the book “Unfit for Command.”
Why did George Bush choose to nominate Miers, knowing that a thorough examination of her past would demand an examination that would end up throwing new fuel on this old fire? Someone with psychological credentials will have to answer that question.
Richard Nixon’s problem in Watergate more than anything else was that he lied, and the lie itself called into question his assertion that he was not a crook. Does George W. Bush really want the old National Guard can of worms reopened by the Harriet Miers nomination? Evidently, he does. Otherwise, a way should be found to end the nomination as quickly and as gracefully as possible.