Published on Thursday, December 12, 2002 by the New York Times
Democrats Seeking Kissinger Disclosures
by Eric Schmitt
WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 — The White House has told the Senate Ethics Committee that Henry A. Kissinger, President Bush's choice to lead an independent inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks, is not required to disclose his global business clients for potential conflicts of interest.
Senate Democratic aides say that because Congress created the 10-member commission all panelists must comply with Congressional rules on financial disclosure and conflict of interest. House and Senate Democratic leaders today announced their five appointees to the commission and said all would honor Senate Ethics Committee requirements.
But the White House says Mr. Kissinger, a former secretary of state, is not required to disclose the client list of his consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc., because he is an executive branch appointee whose position is part-time and unpaid.
The dispute, which may end up in court, is the latest twist in the commission's short existence. It is also further evidence of the continuing battle between the White House and Congressional Democrats over what the lawmakers consider the administration's penchant for secrecy.
In another indication of the problems the commission is having getting itself started, George J. Mitchell, the former senator who had been named as the panel's vice chairman, said today that he would relinquish his position because of the time commitment it would require. Democratic Congressional leaders immediately named Lee H. Hamilton, a former Indiana congressman, to replace him.
"I have concluded that the work of the commission would require more time than I anticipated and more than I now can commit to," Mr. Mitchell wrote in a letter to Tom Daschle and Richard A. Gephardt, the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House. "Therefore, I have decided that I must withdraw. I take this action reluctantly, as I wanted very much to be a part of this important effort."
Mr. Mitchell also said some people had suggested that he sever all ties to his New York law firm, Piper Rudnick. In order to support his family, he said, he could not comply with that request. He added that he had no conflicts of interest that precluded serving on the commission.
The commission's mandate is to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the causes of the attacks, whether they could have been averted and what changes are needed to prevent a similar occurrence.
At issue in the dispute over the disclosure of Mr. Kissinger's clients are the legal and political interpretations of federal ethics and financial disclosure laws, as well as jurisdictional issues.
"This is ludicrous," Stephen Push, the leader of Families of Sept. 11, a group that lobbied for the establishment of the commission, said of the White House position. "The families are concerned that Kissinger is not going to do a thorough investigation. The best way he can prove himself to the families is to make a full disclosure of who his clients are."
A White House official said tonight that the White House counsel's office had obtained an opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel supporting the White House position.
"It is our hope this will be resolved through continued discussion not political grandstanding," the White House official said.
But Senate Democratic aides said the laws cover commission members whether they are paid for their services or not.
Moreover, a new report by the Congressional Research Service found that Mr. Kissinger and any other committee members would be required to publicly identify any client who had paid them more than $5,000 for consulting work over the last two years.
"The issue is very simple," said one senior Democratic aide. "Kissinger is bound and determined that under no circumstances will he disclose. They've put together any Rube Goldberg position to argue that."
The Senate Ethics Committee, which prides itself on its nonpartisanship, is expected to send a letter to the White House counsel's office on Thursday outlining its objections. Victor Baird, the committee's chief counsel, declined tonight to discuss the panel's work.
Mr. Kissinger, the founder and chairman of Kissinger Associates, in New York, has represented some of the world's most powerful multinational corporations, including many with interests in American foreign policy, since 1982.
He has not been required to disclose the names of his clients, but they are believed to include ExxonMobil, Arco,
Earlier this month, he said he was not aware that any of his clients might pose conflicts of interest with his mission as chairman of the commission.
In addition to naming Mr. Hamilton as a replacement vice chairman, the Democratic leaders named four other members of the commission, filling all of their five slots in advance of the Dec. 15 deadline. The members are:
¶Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who lost his re-election bid last month after being accused by Republicans of being insufficiently supportive of the nation's security.
¶Representative Tim Roemer of Indiana, who did not seek re-election this year after 12 years in the House. Mr. Roemer, a member of the House Select Intelligence Committee, was one of the most vocal proponents of an independent inquiry.
¶Richard Ben-Veniste, a Washington lawyer who was chief of the Watergate task force and Democratic counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee.
¶Jamie Gorelick, the vice chairwoman of
Mr. Hamilton served in the House for 34 years and was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, now the International Relations Committee, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. In 1986 he was asked by Speaker Jim Wright to lead a similar inquiry, the House committee that investigated the Iran-contra arms affair.
Mr. Hamilton now serves as director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, where his office said he was not available for comment today.
Republicans in Congress have also named former Senator Slade Gorton to the panel, but have not yet announced their final three appointments.
Copyright The New York Times Company