Jewish World Review August 8, 2002 / 1 Elul, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "While there may not be any evidence to tie (Vice President Dick) Cheney to illegal activity at Halliburton..." St. Petersburg Times Washington bureau chief Sara Fritz says in her July 22 column. She does not go on to say: "but I'm going to smear him anyway," though that is in effect what Ms. Fritz does, alleging that praise Cheney had for the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in 1996 created "the unintended impression that Andersen was recommending the same kind of deceptive accounting at Halliburton that brought down Enron."
In her column in the July 29 issue of U.S. News & World Report, Gloria Borger attacks Republicans who say a "culture of dishonesty and situational ethics that flowed directly from the White House" in the 1990s contributed to the corporate scandals of 2002.
"Blaming Clinton is absolutely ridiculous, ex-Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin told me," Borger said.
It is as unfair and inaccurate to blame Clinton for the stock market's troubles as it is to blame Bush or Cheney. But Borger committed a faux pas when she mentioned Robert Rubin. It's the strategy of Democrats and their shills in the media to pretend Rubin doesn't exist.
Rubin, star of the Clinton Cabinet, is so far the most senior government or former government official shown to have behaved improperly in l'affaire Enron. Last November Rubin, now chairman of the executive committee of the banking conglomerate Citigroup, called Assistant Treasury Secretary Peter Fisher. He asked Fisher to consider advising bond-rating agencies against an immediate downgrade of Enron's debt. Fisher refused.
Citigroup held billions of dollars of Enron's now nearly worthless paper. This was assumed to be the reason why Rubin attempted to influence the government to act on Enron's behalf. Recent news stories have indicated there may have been another.
The Washington Post reported July 22 that Citigroup, along with another bank, "transferred billions of dollars to Enron...in what amounted to loans that the Houston energy trader concealed as it struggled to survive."
The New York Times reported the next day that "senior credit officers of Citigroup misrepresented the full nature of a 1999 transaction with Enron in the records of the deal so that Enron could ignore accounting requirements and hide its true financial condition."
Neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times saw fit to mention Rubin in their stories.
"Citigroup's prepaid contracts with Enron were very complex, and none of the papers has done an especially good job at explaining precisely what was scandal is," said Slate's Timothy Noah. "Possibly there is none. But once the editorial decision was made to give the story major play, there was no justification for airbrushing Rubin out of it."
Incuriosity about Mr. Rubin extends to the Senate Government Operations Committee, where Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) claims to be conducting a thorough investigation of the Enron bankruptcy. Lieberman told the Washington Times July 24 he has no plans to call Rubin to testify.
This incuriosity is remarkable, because on March 21 John Diaz, managing director of Moody's Investors Service, told Lieberman's committee that Rubin had contacted him about seeking a higher credit rating for Enron.
But maybe not so remarkable. If Democrats acknowledged, and the news media reported, that a high-ranking official of the Clinton administration might be up to his eyebrows in corporate fraud, it would be harder to make the stock market plunge a partisan issue in November.
Rubin's phone calls to Fisher and to Diaz, trying to win for Enron a bond-rating it did not deserve, were improper. But it is not yet proven that Citigroup's "prepayment" arrangement with Enron broke the law, or that Rubin was involved in the lawbreaking if there was any. He is entitled to a presumption of innocence.
But, a much better prima facie case can be made that Rubin did wrong than that Cheney did wrong. As Sara Fritz morosely acknowledged, there is no evidence at all that he has. But journalists already have picked out a tree for Cheney, and slung their ropes over it. Truth and fairness can be dispensed with if an election is nigh.
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