- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

Tomorrow the nation will be treated to yet another example of the importance of a robust congressional oversight role in getting to the bottom of the oil-for-food scandal. The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations, chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, last week released documents suggesting that former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, a close ally of President Jacques Chirac, and George Galloway, a British member of parliament, each received the right to market more than 10 million barrels of cut-rate oil from Saddam’s government.

Mr. Galloway, who denies any wrongdoing, is expected to testify before the Coleman committee tomorrow. The hearing is expected to be contentious, as Mr. Galloway, a ferocious critic of the war to liberate Iraq, denies profiting from the program. It will give Mr. Galloway a chance to clear his name — or bury himself. And, like scores of House and Senate hearings on oil for food since last spring, it is certain to provide the American people with new details on what went wrong in the oil-for-food program.

But the investigation could be jeopardized if turf battles and courtroom fights take precedence over getting to the bottom of the scandal. Last month, Robert Parton resigned as senior counsel to the U.N. Independent Inquiry Committee, headed by Paul Volcker, which is investigating oil for food. Mr. Parton says he did so due to his view that the IIC report was insufficiently tough on Secretary-General Kofi Annan.The House International Relations Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Hyde, Illinois Republican, subpoenaed Mr. Parton, who has turned over audio tapes and boxes filled with papers to the panel. Mr. Parton says he took the material to prove that he disputed the findings of an IIC investigative process that was flawed; those confidential documents most likely relate to U.N. decision to award Cotecna — a problem-plagued Swiss firm which employed and paid Mr. Annan’s son Kojo hundreds of thousands of dollars — with a contract to inspect shipments to Iraq through the oil-for-food program.

Mr. Volcker says that, by turning the documents over to the House committee, Mr. Parton violated a confidentiality agreement, and that the IIC must get the documents back. But Mr. Hyde says he has no intention of giving up the documents. One week ago, Mr. Volcker won an injunction in U.S. District Court in Washington to block Mr. Coleman and Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, who chairs the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, from obtaining the documents from Mr. Parton. Since that time, attorneys for Messrs. Parton, Volcker, Coleman and Shays have been busy negotiating an agreement that would permit Mr. Parton to cooperate with the congressional panels without jeopardizing Mr. Volcker’s independent investigation.

Mr. Volcker’s argument, which has the strong support of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, is that Republicans on Capitol Hill are making a mistake by insisting on receiving the documents. Insisting on this threatens to irreparably damage Mr. Volcker’s ability to do his job, because corruption investigations require secrecy, he says. If Congress has these documents, Mr. Volcker says he cannot guarantee confidentiality to his witnesses, whose lives could be endangered if their testimony leaks out. This latter point cannot be taken lightly.

At the same time, however, proponents of a robust role for Congress in investigating the oil-for-food program make a strong case of their own. For one thing, they point out, all of the committees in question operate under strict confidentiality rules. The documents in question are kept under lock and key, and staffers who leak face losing their jobs and worse. Congress’ defenders also observe that were it not for their own efforts to expose corruption in oil for food and-their insistence (particularly on the part of Mr. Hyde) there would not have been a Volcker committee to begin with.

The public interest has been served by both the IIC and congressional investigations. Thanks to the IIC, for example, we have learned, among other things, all about how Mr. Annan’s former chief of staff shredded documents that were potentially relevant to the investigation for eight months after warning his subordinates of the importance of preserving such documents. For their part, members of Congress like Messrs. Hyde, Coleman and Shays have performed admirably in keeping pressure on Mr. Annan and anyone else at Turtle Bay who might attempt to undercut Mr. Volcker. Both the IIC and Congress have important roles to play in investigating the oil-for-food scandal.

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