Vice President Dick Cheney ventured out of hiding yesterday. It was his first public appearance since becoming embroiled in allegations that his former company, Halliburton, cooked its books during his tenure as CEO.
Cheney spoke to a polite Commonwealth Club of California audience in San Francisco. The carefully scripted event was interrupted once when several protestors began chanting "Cheney is a corporate crook. No place to hide."
After the protestors were removed, Cheney smiled, said "Thank you," and resumed his speech. His remarks dealt largely with the economy, which Cheney declared sound and improving. The Vice President made only a passing reference to corporate crime.
"In the past 18 months, the United States has gone through a serious economic slowdown, a great national emergency, a war abroad, and a series of scandals in corporate America,'' Cheney said. "Acts of fraud and theft are outside the norm in corporate America. But when those acts do occur...the wrongdoers must be held accountable."
After his speech Cheney took several pre-screened written questions from the audience, only one of which touched on the Halliburton controversy. He dodged the question by saying the reason he could not comment was because "there are editorial writers all over America poised to put pen to paper and condemn me for exercising undue influence if I say too much about it, since this is a matter pending before an independent regulatory agency, the SEC."
Editorial writers across America have already been criticizing Cheney for weeks for his refusal to address mounting concerns that his behavior as CEO of Halliburton mirrored that of many of the corporate executives being investigated and charged by federal prosecutors.
Instead Cheney praised Halliburton as a "fine company," and referred all inquiries about the disputed accounting to an explanation posted on the company's website. But, critics complained that the material on Halliburton's web site is comprised only of already public SEC filings, which are themselves suspect.
"In both the Harken and Halliburton cases the public needs to see the actual board minutes covering the dates when these issues were discussed and voted on," said a Democratic source on Capitol Hill. "The whole issue is that these two companies misled the SEC and their own shareholders. So, it is disingenuous for Bush and Cheney to refer us to those public documents and expect us to be satisfied, or for that matter, reassured. We need those board minutes and in Harken's case we need the SEC file on its 1991 investigation."
Halliburton is currently under investigation by the SEC, and Cheney has hired a private attorney to represent him in any possible subsequent charges that may follow from that investigation.
One questioner asked if Cheney planned on a second term. In what can best be described as pro forma deference to President Bush and his wife Lynn, Cheney made it perfectly clear that if he has his way he intends to keep his job.
"If the President's willing and if my wife approves and if the doctors say it's OK, then I'd be happy to serve a second term," Cheney said.
About 500 protestors gathered outside San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel in objection to Cheney's appearance.
After departing San Francisco, Cheney spoke at a fund-raising luncheon for GOP congressional candidate Dick Montieth. That night he attended another GOP gala in the Bay Area before departing.
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