Report: Bush dropped ball
in ethics probes

By Julie Foster

As President Bush advances the war against terrorism, enjoying overwhelming support from Americans across the political spectrum, a Washington, D.C.-based government watchdog group has released a report citing the president’s “failure of leadership” in the area of ethics enforcement.

Judicial Watch, a public-interest law firm that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, said it supports President Bush in the war against terrorism but that government malfeasance must continue to be exposed in the meantime. To that end, the group released its report titled, “Bush Administration Ethics Enforcement: A Failure of Leadership.”

The 49-page report outlines what Judicial Watch calls the “disappointing record of the Bush administration’s disinterest in rooting out and fighting corruption,” including the administration’s treatment of Clinton scandals such as “Pardongate” and “Chinagate.” It also reviews Bush’s decision to retain Clinton appointees and the president’s refusal to cooperate with investigations into Enron.

Perhaps most frustrating to many Bush supporters was the president’s decision to overlook any criminal behavior of former President Bill Clinton. During Clinton’s final day in office, the outgoing chief executive pardoned a staggering 138 people, many of whom were Clinton campaign contributors. While that action alone drew a flurry of media attention and scrutiny, evidence that a number of the pardons were actually purchased by recipients made “Pardongate” Clinton’s parting-gift scandal to the American public.

However, many of the pardons were left unfinished, which, according to Judicial Watch, afforded newly inaugurated President Bush the opportunity to cancel them. As explained in the report, presidential pardons are only effective in forgiving the crimes specified in the president’s pardon. Further, pardons may only take effect when the warrant is issued, delivered and accepted.

“Quite simply,” states the report, “a warrant cannot be issued and delivered without knowing what was the express basis of the pardon.”

Clinton’s last-minute statement read:

    After considering the requests for executive clemency of the following named persons, I hereby grant full and unconditional pardons to the following named persons for those offenses against the United States described in each such request: …”

“The problem is that at least 44 of the 138 individuals Clinton listed had no pending requests before him,” the Judicial Watch report states. “Well-established case law, going back to the 19th century, mandates that pardons be specific as to the offenses being pardoned in order to have any legal force or effect. This makes sense, as any pardonee could otherwise use a general, unspecific pardon to be protected from prosecution for any crime committed – whether known or unknown. And, the law is also well-established, that until a pardon is delivered, a President may cancel it – even if it was first issued by his predecessor.”

President Bush chose not to undo Clinton’s procedurally unfinished pardons. Additionally, the administration has made no indictments relative to accusations that some pardons may have been purchased, and none are expected in the future.

Bush merely repeated his mantra that it was time for America to “move on.” When asked whether it was a good idea for Congress to investigate the controversial pardons, Bush responded to reporters on Air Force One on Feb. 13, 2001, “You know, the Congress is going to do what they’re going to do. My attitude is, you know, all this business about the transition – it’s time to move on, it is. It’s time to stay looking forward, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

The Bush administration is apparently looking so far forward that it has all but forgotten Clinton’s “Chinagate” scandal. Perhaps taking a cue from Clinton-appointed Attorney General Janet Reno, Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft stood by while his Justice Department let “Chinagate” player James Riady slide with a soft plea agreement and refused to prosecute him for breaches of U.S. national security.

Riady, whose Indonesian/Chinese conglomerate Lippo Group is believed by U.S. intelligence to be a front operation for Chinese intelligence, illegally gave Clinton millions of dollars through his company, in addition to personal contributions. Riady enjoyed close contact with the White House. His former employee, John Huang, was placed in a sensitive position at the Clinton Commerce Department, where Judicial Watch discovered Huang had access to classified briefings. During Riady’s sentencing hearing last year, Bush Justice Department lawyer Dan O’Brien said Riady would not be prosecuted for breaches of U.S. national security.

“To this day, a year after the Clinton-Gore team left office and the Justice Department was manned by Bush appointees, not one official from the Clinton-Gore White House or campaigns has been indicted concerning campaign finance law violation,” the report states. Bush and Ashcroft’s “failure of leadership in this area is inexcusable.”

While Bush supporters may have found it surprising that the Republican president’s administration has chosen not to pursue charges against the notoriously corrupt Clinton administration, many were shocked when Bush elected to keep several Clinton-era appointees on his Republican leadership team.

One of the most perplexing Clinton holdovers was FBI Director Louis Freeh, who was in charge at the time thousands of FBI files on former President Bush’s staffers were delivered to Hillary Clinton and her staff at the White House – the scandal referred to as “Filegate.” Freeh, who resigned in mid-2001, also took no action on the “Chinagate” scandal and was ultimately responsible for such botched FBI actions as Waco and Ruby Ridge.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti was also held over from the Clinton administration. Rossotti oversaw the audits of a number of perceived political enemies of Clinton – audits Judicial Watch charges were illegal. Among those victimized by Rossotti’s IRS was the Western Journalism Center, which published ads questioning circumstances surrounding the death of Clinton’s White House Counsel Vincent Foster. Judicial Watch represents several targets of the audits in pending lawsuits, including the Western Journalism Center.

Also among Bush’s questionable appointees, Judicial Watch lists Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, whom Bush selected after his first choice, Linda Chavez, withdrew from consideration over charges she harbored an illegal alien in 1992. As reported by WorldNetDaily, Chao and her father have extensive personal ties to communist China’s President Jiang Zemin – contact described as “regular” and “deep.”

Chao’s relationship with Jiang stems from her father, James S. C. Chao, who attended college with the Chinese president before fleeing for Taiwan in 1949, in advance of the communist government takeover of the mainland.

One day before the 2000 presidential election, “Chinagate” player John Huang revealed that Chao had asked him for political contributions for former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, and that her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had received contributions from the Lippo Group.

Despite this, Chao’s confirmation by the Senate was relatively swift in comparison to Bush’s other nominations, some of which are still lingering in the Senate.

More recently, the Enron scandal is cited by Judicial Watch as a Bush administration ethics lapse. Enron’s Kenneth Lay was a major Clinton donor and had attended a trade mission with the late Ron Brown to India in January 1995. Lay received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Clinton administration for Enron’s energy projects in India and elsewhere.

In its efforts to further investigate the Enron debacle, Judicial Watch made Freedom of Information Act requests of the Bush administration. But the administration continually refuses to turn over Enron-related documents, the group reports. Such refusals “raise the inference that [the Bush administration] is hiding something,” the Judicial Watch report states.

Many other actions, or non-actions, by the Bush administration are listed in Judicial Watch’s report, including the decision not to investigate vandalism of White House offices by outgoing Clinton-Gore staff, charges of illegal fund-raising on the part of Vice President Dick Cheney and the treatment of government whistleblowers.

“After eight years of the worst corruption this country has ever seen, Judicial Watch had hoped that the Bush administration would begin the hard work of bringing ‘justice’ to this town. It has not. What Washington, D.C., needs is an ‘ethics stimulus package,’ its centerpiece being a commitment to prosecuting the crimes of the Clinton era,” said chairman and General Counsel Larry Klayman.

While a White House spokesman told WND he would review the report, he did not comment on its contents and conclusions.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton observed that though Clinton may no longer be in office, the former president’s ethics are still influencing White House practices.

“As we can see with the Enron scandal (which has its roots in the Clinton administration), Bill Clinton may have left Washington, but Clintonism remains,” he said.

The report, “Bush Administration Ethics Enforcement: A Failure of Leadership” is available at Judicial Watch’s website.

Related stories:

Bush FBI pick tied to Reno cohort

The real Elaine Chao

Elaine Chao’s ties to Chinese leader

White House vandalism report delayed