August 12, 2003

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ON THE 9/11 COMMISSION: Tom Maguire looks at the timeline, and concludes that Jamie Gorelick's position is even worse than he thought initially:

And I am not quite sure why we are connecting 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 is outrageous, and deserves more attention than it's getting. Republicans won't raise it, because it makes Bush look bad by playing up the Saudi connection. Democrats won't raise it because Gorelick is a Democrat.

But that's okay -- we have an independent press so that this stuff will get attention even when it's not a talking-point for either major party, right?

UPDATE: Reader Richard Riley emails:

Wait a minute. You properly chastise the press and others for chasing bogus "conflicts of interest" and, worse, "appearances" of conflicts of interest - in fact you wrote a good book about it. How is the Gorelick situation any different? Citing chapter and verse on partners technically being agents for all other partners in a partnership etc etc really won't do the trick here. Obviously, Gorelick's compensation at a big profitable place like Wilmer isn't going to be noticeably affected one way or the other whether the firm does or doesn't have the Prince as a client, so where's the REAL conflict, not just the technical "conflict" (if it's even that)? Fair's fair.

Well, no. Actually, in the ethics book (now available in paperback! Cheap!) we argue that appearance ethics are proper for people in judicial-style roles, but shouldn't be applied in political-style settings. So the question is, is the 9/11 inquiry commission essentially judicial (supposed to be independent, focused on facts, non-political) or is it political (involving accommodations between interest groups). It seems to me that it ought to be the former. Sounds like it's shaping up to be the latter.