Washington -- ON JULY 23, acting on a tip from an informant familiar with the political reach of BCCI, I posed this question to White House counsel Boyden Gray: Did John Sununu have any dealings with BCCI or its subsidiaries?
Gray checked and called back promptly: "No. A flat denial." Accordingly, I wrote nothing; an unequivocal denial through the president's attorney squelches a rumor.
However, we now know that at about that time, Ed Rogers -- Sununu's right-hand man, political protege and personal press agent -- was in the process of being hired by Sheik Kamal Adham, the former chief of Saudi intelligence suspected of being at the heart of the biggest swindle in history.
This same Sununu toady helped organize the May 23 meeting that founded the Arab American Council, an oil-backed elite lobbying group that scorns broader-based Arab-American organizations. Sununu and the Syrian ambassador were stars of the gathering; out of Lebanese contacts made there or later, I presume, came Rogers' huge contract.
Here is a 33-year-old Bush political hatchetman, a 1985 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School who never practiced law a day in his life, retained by an accused criminal mastermind at the rate of $25,000 per month for two years. Plus expenses, which will be considerable. Plus, logic suggests, the ability to pass other fat fees on to influentials he designates.
The $600,000 initial payment from Kamal could be, as Rogers insists on his foreign agents registration form, for his legal expertise as well as for "duties that could border on political." Mean-spirited types like me suspect it may be for access to intermediaries who speak to Sununu and to other Bush appointees beholden to the chief of staff, circumventing the ethics law.
Something fishy is behind this government's reluctance to prosecute aggressively the well-connected predators of BCCI. Rogers claimed last summer that his boss was being criticized only because he was of Lebanese extraction; now that the connection has been revealed between BCCI and Sununu's Alabaman right arm, that excuse won't fly.
At first, President Bush said of Sununu's aide: "He is a free citizen to do anything he wants once he leaves the White House." Wrong; we have a law against revolving-door lobbying. Then Bush aides concocted a story that Bush fired Rogers, and that Sununu never talked to his right-hand man about this out-sleazying of Mike Deaver; that's Tooth Fairy stuff.
The new attorney general, who was present at Justice's sustained foot-dragging in BCCI and the Bank of Lavoro ripoffs, labeled the concern that Sununu or anyone might have influenced the BCCI probe "utter nonsense"; that prejudgment removes Justice from any investigation of the Sununu connection.
The final White House ploy to avert a close look at possible influence-peddling came when Bush directed Gray to inquire into it. I have seen the extent of the "inquiry"; Gray passes along denials and the White House whitewash continues.
Did the CIA obstruct the investigation of one of its banking assets? Why did James Baker's Treasury Department fail to act on a CIA tip about BCCI drug-money laundering? Who in Washington tipped the druglords to a belated crackdown, enabling them to withdraw their money first? Who else at or near the top took BCCI largesse?
The White House and Justice Department cannot investigate themselves; this latest affront tips the scales to a special prosecutor. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del., could trigger this process today.
Step 1 is to subpoena Sununu's phone logs and schedules, and to get him under oath on his easy denials. Step 2 is to do the same with Attorneys General Thornburgh and Barr and their criminal division chiefs and at least three misfeasant U.S. attorneys. Then grill Rogers and his intermediaries.
If you have information about manipulation of our prosecutors, do not contact posterior-covering Justice or its FBI subsidiary; send your evidence to the uncorrupted Manhattan district attorney, or to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., or to Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. They'll pass it to the special prosecutor so urgently needed.