- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A company that was created to help clients take advantage of business opportunities in Iraq is made up of businessmen associated with President Bush, his family and his administration.

The connections drew criticism yesterday from Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a Democratic presidential candidate, who called for an independent oversight board to ensure that Iraq reconstruction money is doled out fairly.

New Bridge Strategies, on its Web site, says it will “seek to expedite the creation of free and fair markets and new economic growth in Iraq, consistent with the policies of the Bush administration.”



The firm is headed by Joe Allbaugh, who was Mr. Bush’s campaign manager in 2000 and director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency until March. Other directors include Edward Rogers Jr., vice chairman, and Lanny Griffith. Both were assistants to President George Bush and now are linked closely to the White House.

“This is an administration of the insiders, by the insiders and for the insiders. This is just further evidence of it,” Mr. Edwards said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. “Vice President [Dick] Cheney’s Halliburton has more than $2 billion in Iraq reconstruction contracts and we now find out that Bush’s campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, who just left government, has set up a business to procure business contracts on Iraq.”

New Bridge President John Howland said in a story published in yesterday’s editions of the New York Times that the company did not intend to seek any U.S. government contracts itself, but might be a middleman to advise other companies that seek taxpayer-financed business. The main focus would be to advise companies that seek opportunities in the private sector in Iraq, including licenses to market products there.

The company’s existence was reported first in the Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress.

Mr. Howland said the company was not trying to promote its political connections. Although Mr. Allbaugh has spent most of his career in the political arena, he said, “there’s a lot of cross-pollination between that world and the one that exists in Iraq today.”

Asked about Mr. Allbaugh’s business dealings, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters: “He no longer works for the administration. There are certain obligations you have under ethics laws when you work in the administration. And I fully expect he would be adhering to those.”

Mr. Bush is seeking congressional approval for $20.3 billion to rebuild Iraq, part of an $87 billion package for military and other needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of the administration’s postwar work in Iraq, the government has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to U.S. businesses.

Administration officials have said all future contracts will be issued only as a result of competitive bidding.

New Bridge Strategies was created in May and recently began full-fledged operations, including opening an office in Iraq, the Times said.

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