- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2011

Michael E. Horowitz, President Obama’s nominee as the Justice Department’s top watchdog, has earned more than $4 million since last year as an attorney representing the likes of Pfizer Inc., Dow Chemical Co. and Cablevision Systems Corp. But he is keeping the identities of nearly a dozen other clients secret on newly filed ethics forms.

Federal ethics rules require nominees to disclose clients and customers so ethics officials and the public can vet potential conflicts of interest. But because of a narrow exception to the rules, Mr. Horowitz is withholding about half of his client list, meaning he essentially will have to police himself on any potential conflicts.

The secrecy is permitted thanks to an exception that allows attorney-client confidentiality to trump government disclosure mandates in limited circumstances, such as when a client has been involved in secret proceedings.

Nominated last month to be the Justice Department’s inspector general, Mr. Horowitz noted on a recent disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics that the names of 11 clients were being withheld “where the representation involved a grand jury or other nonpublic investigation and the client name was not made public.”

Under federal ethics rules, nominees are permitted to keep clients secret if the identity is protected by court order or under seal. In addition, nominees can decline to disclose the identity of a client who has been the subject of a grand jury or nonpublic investigation, or if a written confidentiality agreement was in place when the lawyer was hired.

The lack of disclosure puts nominees on an honor system, recusing themselves from matters that involve former clients.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said that Mr. Horowitz will tell ethics officials about his legal work and that officials will have an accurate recusal list.

“He’ll follow DOJ policy on that just like anyone else,” she said.

While 11 of Mr. Horowitz’s clients remain confidential on ethics forms, he did disclose 11 other clients for whom he has provided legal services. The disclosure document doesn’t describe the specific matters on which Mr. Horowitz worked, but states that he provided “legal services.”

Several of the clients listed on Mr. Horowitz’s ethics forms have faced recent scrutiny from the Justice Department:

c Roger Schaerer is one of four Swiss bankers charged this year with helping U.S. taxpayers use secret accounts to help avoid paying federal taxes.

c The Stryker Corp. last year received a subpoena from the Justice Department in an ongoing investigation involving “sales, marketing and regulatory matters,” according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

c Dow Chemical in July agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a Justice Department probe into air, water and waste violations at a Michigan complex.

c Pfizer in 2009 agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle a Justice Department probe into fraudulent marketing of its anti-inflammatory drug Bextra.

Under Mr. Obama’s ethics rules, Mr. Horowitz must recuse himself for two years on specific matters involving former clients unless he receives a waiver.

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