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Unearthing Democratic Root to Halliburton Flap

by Al KamenWashington Post
March 5th, 2004

Truly there is nothing new under the sun. In recent months Democrats have been bleating about fat Iraq construction contracts going to Halliburton, about Halliburton's ties to the administration because Vice President Cheney happened to run the company just before taking his current job and a shocking GOP tendency to help contributors.


These are all coincidences, but some critics have even called for an independent investigation into Houston-based Halliburton.


It should be clear that these odd coincidences are not something invented by Republicans. They are a venerable tradition. During the Vietnam War, for example, members of Congress were ripping into the Johnson administration for taking contributions from Brown & Root Inc., now part of Halliburton, and its supposedly cushy construction contracts in Vietnam.


One courageous House member even took the floor to question the "30-year association, personal and political, between Lyndon B. Johnson as congressman, senator, vice president and president" and the company's chairman, George R. Brown of Houston, who "had contributed $23,000 to the President's Club while the Congress was considering" whether to continue another multimillion-dollar Brown & Root project. (Club membership could be bought for $1,000 in those days, the equivalent of a whopping $6,000 today.)


The House member recounted "a particularly flagrant example of improper federal secrecy [in] the refusal of the National Science Foundation to disclose the facts and figures of the initial award of the . . . contract" to Brown & Root, according to an August 1966 Congressional Record spotted by Harper's.


Something, the outraged House member said, had to be done. "Only a full investigation of the President's Club and any possible connection with government contracts can supply the answers to the questions raised. Only prompt passage of election reform legislation can help avoid such concern in the future."


And while the modern cry is for appointment of a special prosecutor, the House member then said "only . . . an investigating committee controlled by the minority [Republicans] can assure vigorous investigation" of all this.


Sound crazy? Not at all, he said. "The House of Commons in Great Britain has such a committee controlled by the minority," and a "Republican administration and a Republican Congress appointed a Democratic senator to investigate the Teapot Dome scandal. It is not a new idea," he insisted. "It is a sound and necessary one."


The Democrats weren't buying it. And the House member, Donald H. Rumsfeld (R-Ill.), moved on to other things.


Let's see. President Bush appoints a Democratic senator to investigate? Would have to be someone known to be above the partisan fray. Got it. How about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)?

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