It was only toward the end of his terribly flawed and tragic life that Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown realized how much he had thrown away.
What prompted this recognition was the appointment by Attorney General Janet Reno of an independent counsel to investigate not only Brown, but also his son, Michael, for their participation in an Oklahoma natural gas scam that would likely have sent them both to prison.
Brown would save his son by agreeing under pressure from the Clintons to broker on site a sweetheart deal between the neo-fascists who ran Croatia at the time and, yes, the Enron Corporation.
Brown never returned from what the Washington Post called “a mission to help connect U.S. businessmen to trade opportunities in the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia.” He and 34 others died in a fiery plane crash on a Croatian hillside.
“The trip was his 19th ambitious world-trade mission, including a historic one to South Africa, since Clinton appointed him commerce secretary in 1993,” insists the Post in its painfully dishonest tribute to Brown’s memory on the 15th anniversary of his death. “He brought vision and muscularity to a Cabinet position that often lacked vigor.”
In fact, the trade missions were one of the reasons Brown was being investigated. After the November 1994 electoral debacle, fearing defeat in 1996, the White House perverted the missions to raise large sums of money from the businessmen who accompanied Brown.
The Clintons could exploit Brown because the various scandals in which he was enmeshed left him no room to protest. He needed their protection, but he despised his role as “bag man” almost as much as he despised the Clintons.
When Michael was targeted, Ron Brown had a literal come-to-Jesus moment. In a move as rash as it was brave, he insisted President Clinton use his political capital to call off the independent counsel targeting Michael. That was his last meeting with the president.
The Washington Post has forfeited any claim to moral seriousness by whitewashing all of this. “It’s hard when folks say, ‘Who is the next Ron Brown?’” the Post quotes Michael as saying as though it made any sense. “Just like it’s hard to say, ‘Who is the next [Michael] Jordan.’”
Instead of telling a cautionary tale on the seductions of power, the Post told a fairy tale designed to reinforce its bond with the black community.
This condescension has left many in the black media cold, several of whom proved very helpful in promoting my book, “Ron Brown’s Body,” when it was published a few years back.
These people did not want empty tributes. They just wanted an honest investigation. So did many of the family members of those who died, six of whom were in the U.S. Air Force.
The Post has never even tried to provide an answer. As far as I know, I am the only media person to have requested the 22-volume U.S. Air Force report.
It was in the report, for instance, that I learned about the Enron connection. No one at the Post wanted to know even about that.
Fifteen years after Brown’s death, some very basic questions remain unanswered. If the Post ever finds its soul, here are some questions its reporters might ask:
“We’ve been looking for her,” said the USAF of Zdenka Gast, the liaison between Enron and Croatia. Gast left Brown’s plane to fly on Enron’s private jet at the last moment. Why did no interview with her appear in the final USAF report?
Why did Hillary Clinton invite Gast to Alexis Herman’s intimate wedding reception at the White House some time after the plane crash?
Why did Hillary make an unscheduled visit to Tuzla in Bosnia, just nine days before Brown left Tuzla on his fatal trip?
Time Magazine claimed that the plane crashed while “one of the worst storms in a decade was raging.” In fact, it wasn’t even raining at the time, and the sun was peeking through the clouds. Who misled Time, and why?
The USAF called the crash “inexplicable.” Why was the White House so easily satisfied with that non-explanation?
Who detoured NATO rescuers for more than four hours over the Adriatic when the plane crashed just a mile or so inland from the airport?
Why did the White House deny Brown an autopsy after an apparent bullet hole was found in the top of his head?
Who determined that three military pathologists and a forensic photographer should have their careers ruined for telling the truth about the head wound?
Why did the White House not inform Brown’s wife and two adult children of a possible gunshot wound to the head?
What happened to the head X-rays that showed a “lead snowstorm?” Why did the Justice Department not pursue the Naval Criminal Investigative Service leak that they said had been purposely destroyed?
When the airport’s aviation systems manager showed up dead with a bullet hole in his chest days after the crash, why did the USAF accept the Croatian verdict of “suicide” without protest?
The Post does not honor Ron Brown with false platitudes. It can only honor him with the truth. It is not too late.