The BCCI whitewash

William Safire

November 06, 1991|By William Safire

Washington RELAX, everybody -- the White House counsel has "investigated" the case of the departing Sununu aide with no legal experience who was hired for $600,000 by a BCCI figure, and rendered this verdict: Nobody did anything wrong.

Influence peddling? An attempt by intermediaries to obstruct justice? Forget it. Sununu's man agrees to give back the money; case closed.

Much relieved, the Republican Justice Department hastily announces it accepts the predetermined result of the White House "inquiry" and will not investigate. To date, nobody has been asked a single question under oath.

Let's see what Sheik Kamal Adham, the ex-Saudi spymaster at the center of the BCCI conspiracy, thought he would get by hiring the person closest to Bush's chief of staff.

Since late spring, Plato Cacheris, Kamal's legitimate criminal defense lawyer, has been trying to get various prosecutors to move the mountain to his client -- that is, to come to a place of the sheik's choosing, where he cannot be arrested and extradited, to listen to an unsworn proffer of evidence that will deflect prosecution from him.

Nothing doing, said Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, the only lawman getting real results in the BCCI swindle; bring him in -- we'll get his story in front of a grand jury. Nor, for over three months, was the U.S. attorney in Washington inclined to kowtow to this witness or subject or target.

Then Sununu's right-hand man departs the White House and is immediately retained, reportedly paid $136,000 in advance. Justice suddenly has a change of heart; though Ed Rogers' hand doesn't show, David Eisenberg, an assistant U.S. attorney, is dispatched from Washington to Cairo to meet Kamal on the sheik's terms.

Lo and behold, Ed Rogers of Cairo and Washington sticks out his hand, shakes Eisenberg's, then withdraws. (He's probably earned his fee; pity he has to return it.)

Did the longtime Sununu hatchet man, who placed political allies throughout the federal government, play a part in reversing the Justice decision? Nobody wants to know.

The White House counsel found a loophole in the Ethics Act enabling him to place Bush's ethical imprimatur on this sleazy deal: Rogers did not work on BCCI matters before leaving the White House.

From the point of view of Kamal, that immunity from Ethics Act reach is what made the Sununu aide especially valuable.

Bush's counsel, in dismissing the case, notes virtuously that "our review discloses no evidence that Rogers made any communication to anyone in the White House concerning BCCI."

What about "Sununu people" placed in State, Treasury and regulatory agencies outside the act's purview? What about intermediaries who carry messages to the White House? Nobody wants to know.

Look: the pattern of the BCCI swindlers for a decade has been to buy high-level influence, to seek to avert prosecution and obstruct justice, to offer bribes. It worked around the world; why shouldn't they try it on the Bush White House?

The White House self-inquiry, as predicted here a week ago, was a sham; its avid embrace by Criminal Division chief Robert Mueller is typical of Justice's inexplicable ineptness in the face of a vast criminal conspiracy. Dick Thornburgh bobbled his Pennsylvania race partly because of his BCCI failure.

Because nobody has held out a bundle of cash and bluntly said "obstruct justice," the complaisant Mueller will not ask anybody embarrassing questions under oath.

When it comes to modern global corruption -- legal fees, stock deals, intermediaries, cooperation with intelligence cut-outs for protection -- this passive Thornburgh product just doesn't get it.

Returning the money does not wash away the deed. We have here a blatant, unmistakable reach for influence inside the Bush White House.

Who were the brokers, the go-betweens, in the Middle East, in Paris and in Washington who told Sheik Kamal which Bush aide to hire and what to ask for?

White House aides past and present know some of them and should be required to help prosecutors get a fix on would-be fixers.

Last week the Justice Department again demonstrated its paralysis on BCCI. The cover-up is on; only a special prosecutor unconcerned with political fallout can stop it.

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