- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2001

President Bush yesterday issued a stern warning to his White House staff, ordering them to adhere to a strict code of legal and ethical conduct and avoid "even the appearance of problems."
Seeking to draw a sharp and immediate distinction from the Clinton-Gore administration, Mr. Bush used his first official appearance since taking office to set the tone of his new White House.
"First, we must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins with careful adherence to the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct," Mr. Bush said in brief comments to his staff just after 9 a.m. in the East Room.
"This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking and, if need be, double-checking that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules."
The president's comments were an explicit effort to mark a clear contrast with President Clinton's administration, which was tainted by scandal throughout his two terms. As dozens of new White House staff members were sworn in, Mr. Bush urged his staff to engage each other and even the president himself if they fear the ethical code has been violated.
"No one in the White House should be afraid to confront the people they work for, for ethical concerns. And no one should hesitate to confront me, as well. We're all accountable to one another. And above all, we're all accountable to the law and to the American people," he said.
Mr. Clinton, who days after his 1992 election pledged to have "the most ethical administration in the history of the republic," battled scandal throughout his presidency. Years before he parsed the meaning of the word "is" in his testimony about his sexual affair with White House staffer Monica Lewinsky, his administration was beset with ethical problems.
During the course of his administration, seven independent counsels were called in to investigate the president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and five Cabinet members. In addition to Kenneth W. Starr's probe, counsels investigated Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman.
The Starr investigation resulted in 15 convictions and the impeachment of the president. Mr. Cisneros pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and the Brown probe ended when Mr. Brown died in a plane crash. Mr. Espy was acquitted of all charges brought by the prosecutor; the inquiries into Mr. Babbitt and Mrs. Herman ended with no indictments.
Mr. Clinton also was found in contempt of court for giving "deliberately false" testimony and paid $90,000 to settle a sexual misconduct suit brought against him by Paula Jones, who claimed he exposed himself to her while he was governor of Arkansas.
He ended his term by striking a deal on his last full day in office in which he acknowledged for the first time that he had lied under oath about his relationship with Miss Lewinsky.
Mr. Bush left no doubt that he plans to make good on his campaign pledge to run an ethical White House and "restore honor and integrity" to the presidency. "I want it said of us that promises made were promises kept," he said yesterday.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card also addressed all incoming staff.
"One of the things that Andy said that I think is particularly important, and the president wants this to be our mantra, Andy told us that ethics does not only spring from the laws, it comes from your conscience. And I think that's a very good guideline for all of us here to follow."
But Mr. Bush's first directive to his White House staff was not all upbraiding. He thanked them for the long hours they are about to endure and told them they are there "because you have my full confidence." He ensured his staff that they will move full speed ahead: "We are here to make progress. We are not here just to mark time."
Still, he instructed those who will be "the face and voice of the White House staff" to show "humility and decency and fairness."
"As we go about our work, there's no excuse for arrogance and never a reason for disrespect toward others," he said.
Enacting new ethics regulations was one of Mr. Bush's first official acts, signed hours after he became the 43rd president on Saturday. In the guidelines, he issued a memo instructing department heads and agency directors to make sure their employees uphold the Constitution, the law and ethical principles above private gain.
"I ask you to ensure that all personnel within your departments and agencies are familiar with, and faithfully observe, applicable ethics laws and regulations," Mr. Bush wrote in the memo.
The president also said public service employees could not solicit or accept gifts from persons or entities doing business with the government. The guidelines also prohibit outside employment that conflicts with their government work and instruct employees to satisfy "in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those imposed by law."
Mr. Bush said executive branch employees should also be "fully aware" that their post-employment activities with respect to lobbying and other forms of representation will be bound by the restrictions under federal law.
That, too, differs from Mr. Clinton's guidelines. In late December, Mr. Clinton quietly revoked his executive order that had barred his top aides from lobbying for five years after leaving the administration.
He had signed the order in his first official act as president to establish what he called the "toughest" ethical requirements of any administration.
The order required senior aides to pledge that they would not lobby any agency they served for five years after leaving the government and that they would never lobby for any foreign government.
White House aides said that order was unnecessary because a Republican would soon take office.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide