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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Ms. Gorelick And The 9/11 Commission - It's Not As Bad As You Thought...

It's Worse

Ms. Gorelick is one of the ten commissioners on the 9/11 panel, and also an attorney at a prominent Washington firm representing Saudi Prince Mohammed al Faisal, who seems to have an interest in the 9/11 lawsuits brought by families of the survivors.

Dwight Meredith pointed out this conflict of interest, and there has been broad criticism of the situation in the blogosphere. My initial thoughts are below.

And why is it worse than it already looks?

Ms. Gorelick was appointed to the commission in 2002.
The process (Section 6) called for the Republicans (President, House, and Senate) to pick five commissioners, including the Chairman; the Democrats in the House and Senate were also to pick five members, including the Vice-Chairman. Ms. Gorelick was chosen by the Democrats.

In the following April of 2003, Newsweek reports that Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, a major Washington law firm, has been retained by Saudi Prince Mohammed al Faisal, as noted above.

On May 14, 2003, Wilmer, Cutler, and Pickering (WCP) issue a press release announcing that Ms. Gorelick is joining their firm, effective July 1.

And I am not quite sure what sequence of events led Dwight and others to connect the dots just now, but here we are: WCP is retained by a prominent Saudi to help with his 9/11 problem, as reported in April; in May, WCP hires a member of the 9/11 Commission.

Did Ms. Gorelick know about her new firm's Saudi client? If she did know, did she get back with the Congressional Democrats who appointed her, and run this by them?

Or did she not know, in which case her confidence in her new partners, not to mention our credulity, may be a bit strained.

This commisison has been fraught with conflicts from the outset. Astute readers have memories of Henry Kissinger accepting the chairmanship to widespread catcalls, and then stepping aside due to the many conflicts of interest surrounding the private consulting firm that bears his name - he would not disclose his clients, and chose to step aside, and good-bye, Henry.

And, because they are very astute, readers have a memory of Sen. George Mitchell (the IRA, the Mitchell Plan in the Middle East, former Majority Leader) stepping aside, because his law firm had clients that gave an appearance of conflicts.

Atrios has noted problems with the current chairman, former Gov. Kean of NJ. And we are shaking our heads, because this also looks bad.

Now, in the case of Chairman Tom Kean, it turns out he is on the Board of Directors of Amerada Hess, an oil company with Saudi connections. You may or may not think this is disqualifying, but at least we have some accountablity, since his conflict could have been identified and criticized at the time of his appointment by the President.

But Gorelick has a newly created conflict. Without more info, it is hard to fault the Democrats who appointed her, or even the woman herself - maybe she was not properly informed my WCP.

But even now, we can find a minor point to pick on - the ubiquitous "Beldar" has picked up Dwight Meredith's suggestion of Warren Rudman as a possible replacement. I don't think this works, unless Rudman has quietly done a "Jeffords" - the enabling legislation says that:

(1) Political party affiliation.--Not more than 5 members of
the Commission shall be from the same political party.

Maybe there is help in the fine print. We need help with this Commission.

UPDATE: Following up on Kean - his appointment was announced very late in the process, so the press did not have any time to dig. USA Today has this story, noting his connection to Amerada Hess, as well as to some companies that lost people at the WTC. The first mention of the Amerada Hess question I have found is in this seemingly non-mainstream outlet in Jaunary.

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