Vice president says he wants a second term

Cheney says job makes him political `target' but is high point of career

August 08, 2002|By Bob Kemper | Bob Kemper,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking publicly for the first time about the federal investigation into the energy company he once led, said yesterday that he has become a political "target" and is unable to defend himself without being accused of trying to derail investigators.

Cheney said he plans to run for re-election with President Bush in 2004 as long as his wife, Lynne, and the president approve - and his health allows.

"The return to public life carries certain penalties. You pay a price once you get into the public arena, because you do become a target," he told the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.

Still, he said, the past two years in office have been "the high point of my professional life, and I wouldn't have missed [it] for the world."

Some have speculated that Cheney could be replaced on the 2004 ticket, in part because of his history of heart problems but also because questions about his business dealings could become a political liability.

Cheney indicated that he would like nothing better than to address the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into accounting practices at Halliburton Co., the Texas-based energy services giant where he was chief executive between 1995 and 2000.

But he suggested that anything he said could be construed as an attempt to affect the investigation's outcome. Bush has already been criticized for predicting the SEC would exonerate Cheney.

"I am, of necessity, restrained in terms of what I can say about the matter because there are editorial writers all over America poised to put pen to paper and condemn me for exercising undue, improper influence, if I say too much about it," Cheney said, "since this is a matter pending before an independent regulatory agency, the SEC."

Cheney directed those who are "interested in the facts" to Halliburton's Web site for information. The site contains a recording of a July 24 conference call between Halliburton executives and stock analysts during which Cheney's successor, David Lesar, defended the company and Cheney as victims of a media feeding frenzy and politics.

"This is about politics," Lesar said. "This is not about fraud or legal accounting. Our accounting is absolutely legal."

Federal regulators are looking into why Halliburton claimed as revenue money it had not yet collected from construction contracts that were tied up in negotiations over cost overruns.

The SEC also is examining why Halliburton waited about a year before notifying shareholders that it had changed its accounting practices.

In San Francisco, hecklers interrupted his speech, shouting "Cheney is a corporate crook."

The vice president stopped speaking until the protesters were led out of the hall.

Cheney's appearance yesterday, and at a ceremony for Bush's signing of a trade bill Tuesday, marked a public re-emergence of sorts for the vice president, who has been keeping a low profile since the SEC announced in May its intention to investigate Halliburton.

The questions being raised about his business dealings have only fueled Democratic criticisms that Bush has been hypocritical in calling for corporate reforms. Democrats charge Cheney and Bush, who was a director of Harken Energy, with benefiting from many of the business practices they now condemn.

Bob Kemper is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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