Wolfowitz seeks another chance

White House defends him but signals that it might be open to his departure

May 16, 2007|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A day after the directors of the World Bank accused Paul Wolfowitz of breaking ethics rules in negotiating a promotion and salary raise for his companion, the bank president pleaded with them yesterday to give him another chance as leader of the anti-poverty lender.

Defending himself at an evening board meeting, Wolfowitz urged directors to separate the mistakes he might have made in handling his companion's reassignment from the larger questions about his rocky two-year tenure at the bank.

"If you want to have a discussion about my leadership, my management style and the policies I support, let's do it," Wolfowitz said, according to the text of his remarks released by his lawyers. "That's fair. That's legitimate. But let's get past this conflict-of-interest matter that was resolved over a year ago."

The White House again defended Wolfowitz yesterday, but for the first time, indicated that it might be open to his departure.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wolfowitz's mistakes are not "firing offenses" but that "all options are on the table" concerning the bank's leadership.

Wolfowitz has resisted calls to resign over the scandal, in which he is accused of improperly negotiating a significant raise and promotion for his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, who was a senior bank employee when President Bush nominated Wolfowitz for the top job.

Critics have called the controversy over Riza emblematic of larger management failures by Wolfowitz, a former No. 2 official at the Pentagon who is considered a chief architect of the Iraq war.

Bush's decision to name him to the World Bank post was considered by many career staff members at the bank to be an effort to impose the administration's foreign policy priorities on the bank. The bank is an international institution chartered by member nations who appoint its board of governors and executive directors.

On Monday, an ad hoc committee of board members reviewing the Riza controversy released a report saying that Wolfowitz had exhibited "questionable judgment and a preoccupation with self-interest over institutional self-interest." They also questioned whether Wolfowitz "will be able to provide the leadership" the bank needs to do its work.

In his statement, Wolfowitz contended that the two issues should not be conflated.

"I sincerely believe that if you read my submissions, you will conclude that I acted in what I believed were the best interests of the institution and that my conduct with respect to Ms. Riza's external placement does not justify taking any action against me or warrant a finding that you lack confidence in my leadership," Wolfowitz said.

Maura Reynolds writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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