- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Erskine Bowles campaigns for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina as a populist, a man with a "personal discomfort with politics." Even as he squares off against Elizabeth Dole this fall, Mr. Bowles maintains he "is not a politician," and only runs for office due to a philanthropic impulse he realized after September 11. The record, however, reveals Bill Clinton's former chief of staff as an entrenched and experienced politician with a penchant for Clintonite ethics.
In 1993, Mr. Bowles was appointed director of the Small Business Administration (SBA), a reward for raising a lot of money for Mr. Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. Soon thereafter, the Department of Justice and Congress began an investigation of Capital Management Services (CMS), an SBA-operated company run by an Arkansas municipal judge and longtime friend of Mr. Clinton. In the mid-1980s, CMS loaned $300,000 to Jim and Susan McDougal to purchase the now-infamous Whitewater Development property thereby benefiting the Clintons, who were business partners of the McDougals.
In a November 1993 letter from a House committee, Mr. Bowles as head of SBA, was asked for a "full written report on Capital Management Services, Inc." Instead of providing the report, Mr. Bowles waited four months before deciding to recuse himself from the investigation, presumably based on his relationship with the Clintons and their connection to CMS and Whitewater. When he belatedly informed Congress of his recusal, Mr. Bowles claimed he had never even "reviewed the Capital Management file."
But a different story emerged two years later, when Mr. Bowles was under oath and there were other witnesses who might contradict him. In October 1995, the Senate Whitewater Committee subpoenaed records from Mr. Bowles, including all meeting notes, schedules and memoranda related to the Whitewater investigation. A month later, in his testimony before the Senate Whitewater Committee, Mr. Bowles admitted that he had actually played an integral role in keeping the White House informed of the progress of the CMS investigation.
Contrary to his previous claim of recusal, Mr. Bowles revealed he was briefed repeatedly by SBA officials about the CMS inquiry. More damning, Mr. Bowles' testimony revealed that the night before his Senate appearance, he had gone to the White House and briefed then-White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty on the CMS investigation.
Rep. Jan Meyers, a committee member who Mr. Bowles had told previously, he had recused himself, was livid. She wrote him expressing disgust at his outrageous behavior, saying he was "attempting to have it both ways publicly proclaiming your recusal, while at the same time providing information to officials in the White House about what the SBA and congressional committee were doing concerning their investigations of CMS." She added, "Mr. Bowles was personally and substantially involved in the SBA's handling of the CMS matter, and if you examine Mr. Bowles and others' testimony before the Senate, it seems that Mr. Bowles' view of a recusal is something of an on-again-off-again undertaking." Rep. Meyers concluded that at the very least Mr. Bowles' obfuscation of his activities was "an ethical breach" that warranted action by the Office of Government Ethics.
Unfortunately, this was not Mr. Bowles' only brush with unethical activity. As deputy White House chief of staff, Mr. Bowles was involved in the Clinton administration's illegal merging of White House and Democratic Party databases. According to a congressional report, Erskine Bowles and other administration officials were involved "in the unlawful conversion of government property to the use of the DNC and the campaign through the diversion of data and resources" during the 1996 re-election effort.
Mr. Bowles was also an active participant in six of Mr. Clinton's notorious White House coffee fundraisers, including one with a known felon and another with an associate of Charlie Trie, a central figure in the campaign-finance investigation. In 1997, while at the White House, he met with John Huang, the DNC's leading illegal fund-raiser.
Excusing Mr. Clinton's fund-raising scandals, Mr. Bowles said, "in my opinion, it's not a question of legality or illegality. I think what was done was legal, but we at the White House were in the fight of our lives. You know, this president was fighting for what he believed in." That philosophy is why 26 persons were convicted, and more than 140 people either plead the Fifth Amendment or fled the country for their part in illegal fund-raising during Mr. Clinton's 1996 campaign.
Mr. Bowles believes that as long as the goal is honorable, anything is permissible. The evidence is overwhelming. Erskine Bowles suffers no discomfort with politics. In fact, he is quite comfortable playing dirty, so long as the goal is worthy.

David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United and the former chief investigator for the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight.

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