Vice President Dick Cheney was not in very good truthful form on NBC's "Meet the Press" a week ago. Asked about polls that showed a majority of Americans believing that Saddam Hussein was involved in planning the 9/11 attacks, Cheney said, "I think it's not surprising that people make that connection," adding that the jury was still out whether an actual connection existed. Not true: The intelligence community has dismissed the possibility of a link. At any rate, Cheney's coy and continuing peddling of a baseless connection led President Bush himself to set the record straight a few days later: "No," he told a reporter, "we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th."
Cheney was just flirting with lies regarding Iraq. But lost in the winks and nudges of his appearance on "Meet the Press" was an outright lie regarding his ties to Halliburton, the oil service company he headed in the 1990s: "Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all of my financial interest. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had, now, for over three years."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat, wasn't so sure. He looked into Cheney's financial disclosure forms filed with the Office of Government Ethics. This is what he found: In 2001, Halliburton paid Cheney a salary of $205,298. In 2002, the company paid him $162,392. He is to receive similar payments this year and for the next two years. Those are "deferred salary" payments -- not retirement benefits or payments from escrow accounts, but, as Lautenberg points out, "an ongoing corporate obligation that is paid from company funds." If Halliburton were to go under, the payments would stop.
That, of course, is not about to happen. The stock market has tanked in the last three years. The economy continues to lurk between recession and Herbert Hoover's shadow. But Halliburton's stock value in less than a year (going back to last October) has grown 75 percent. Hint: Halliburton is the Pentagon's top contractor in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Cheney, a proponent, if not a fan, of both wars, holds 433,333 Halliburton stock options. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind. If Cheney's deferred salary and stock options don't constitute a financial interest of any kind, then the vice president's conception of reality is as questionable as his ethics. The fact that he has pledged not to profit from stock sales by giving profits to a charity doesn't diminish the extent of his ties.
The New York Stock Exchange was just roiled by the forced resignation of Dick Grasso, its chairman, following an outcry over the $140 million retirement package Grasso had amassed. Much of the money was to be paid in deferred compensation, and from firms Grasso was supposed to be regulating. The pay package was only half the obscenity. The conflict of interest was the damnable one.
In Cheney's case, it is an interest in conflict that ought to be damnable as well. Cheney is the Bush administration's hawk in chief. His company's profitable subsidiary (to say former company would stretch the truth) is Kellogg Brown & Root, which houses and feeds American soldiers deployed around the world, and provides an array of other services, from maintaining supply lines to running POW camps. The Pentagon and reconstruction contracts KRB has snagged are mind-boggling: Iraq oil field repairs: $7 billion. Other services in Iraq: $613 million. Afghanistan: $62.2 million. In the Balkans: $1.6 billion. Hungary: $287.7 million. Those contracts explain Halliburton's much healthier stock price of late.
So for taxpayers at the moment, the most relevant connection isn't Saddam Hussein's ties to al-Qaida. It is Dick Cheney's, and government's, ties to Halliburton.
© 2003 News-Journal Corporation