Scandal-free diplomacy

November 21, 2005

THE NOMINATION of Roland E. Arnall as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands has been on hold for nearly a month, trapped in political limbo in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where members deadlocked 9-9 on sending his nomination to the full Senate for a vote.

The lawmakers who held up the nomination acted on principle, not partisanship, and were right not to support Mr. Arnall, who is enmeshed in legal troubles.

A multibillionaire and major Bush donor, Mr. Arnall is chairman and founder of Ameriquest Mortgage Co. and principal owner of Ameriquest Capital Corp., which was sued by 33 states - including Maryland - and the District of Columbia for predatory lending practices targeting low-income minorities and the elderly. Mr. Arnall has acknowledged mistakes by staffers, but the systemic abuses seem to go beyond errant employees.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who pushed to hold up the nomination until the legal issues are resolved, has a point. U.S. diplomats should not be symbols of American corporate greed.

Mr. Arnall's financial ties to President Bush are also cause for concern. The practice of appointing cronies and contributors as ambassadors has always been somewhat troubling, but when it is coupled with legal questions, as in this case, the appointment is particularly worrisome.

Mr. Arnall's well-known generosity to important social and cultural causes speaks well of him, but the mortgage lending mess does not. He should not be considered until Ameriquest's legal problems are resolved.

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