William Safire, in a NYT op-ed piece today, adds fuel to the fire that's been lit under Kofi Annan by a few choice members of the US Congress.
The New York Times
"I'm angry that we find the U.N. proactively interfering with our investigation," Senator Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, informed Lou Dobbs on CNN, "by telling certain folks not to cooperate with us." He repeated for emphasis his sharp response to Secretary General Kofi Annan's "interfering with our ability to get information we need" about the oil-for-food scandal [For the whole Dobbs/CNN transcript click "continue reading" below- Ed.].
Two things: first, Coleman is my senator, like me he used to be a Democrat, keep an eye on him, he's going places. Second, Safire calls it like it is:
If legislative investigators were prosecutors, the name of the game Annan and his enablers are playing would be called "obstruction of justice."
The principal investigating body of the Senate is not helpless. Today witnesses from Treasury and C.I.A., as well as its own investigators, will present evidence that the huge rip-off engineered by Saddam Hussein - with the connivance of corrupt U.N. officials and companies protected by Security Council members like Russia and France - was even greater than the $10 billion figure estimated by our G.A.O. Going back to 1991 and including the predecessor to oil-for-food, an outside source tells me that the U.N.-maladministered profiteering reached $23 billion. Such heavy spending affects U.N. votes.
If the $10 billion figure was huge, the $23 billion figure is mind boggling. Just imagine the influence that could be (was) bought.
Kofi Annan's longtime right-hand man, Benon Sevan, headed the U.N.'s Office of the Iraq Program; he has been retired but has been vociferously denying wrongdoing ever since his name appeared on a list of beneficiaries of Saddam's largesse in the form of vouchers for oil deals.
Annan's obstruction of outside investigations has strong support within the U.N. members whose citizens are most likely to be embarrassed by revelations of payoffs: Russia, France and China lead all the rest. He has dutifully continued to align himself with their interests by declaring the overthrow of Saddam "illegal" and recently denouncing our attack on the insurgents in Falluja. Perhaps he thinks that this confluence of national interest in cover-up - along with the unwillingness of most media to dig into a complicated story - will let his stonewalling succeed. He reckons not with an insulted Congress.
Another casualty: though I'm sorry to see it, Saffires assessment of Paul Volker's situation is right on the money.
Sad to see is the secretary general's manipulative abuse of Paul Volcker. Here is a former central banker so confident of his hard-earned reputation for integrity that he cannot see how it is being shredded by a web of sticky-fingered officials and see-no-evil bureaucrats desperate to protect the man on top who hired him to substitute for - and thereby to abort - prompt and truly independent investigation.
As we have just seen in the 2004 presidential election, profligate spending will not buy results. Saddam's oil for food payoffs to UN security council members have surpassed their usefulness; the UN will have to pay the piper instead.
CNN.com - Transcripts
DOBBS: Tonight, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is under fire, once again, in the multibillion-dollar oil-for-food scandal. Two U.S. senators investigating the scandal have sent Annan a sharply-worded letter and they accuse him of obstructing their work.
Richard Roth reports from the U.N.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): For months, several congressional committees have accused the United Nations of blocking their own oil-for-food investigations.
Now two U.S. senators have stepped up the pressure, sending a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan charging him with preventing access to U.N. officials and documents related to the $64 billion humanitarian program.
It's noteworthy that one of the senators is Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat and longtime supporter of the United States. Levin and Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota believe Annan and the U.N. own oil-for-food panel are stonewalling congressional investigators.
SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: I'm angry that we find the U.N. proactively interfering with our investigation by telling certain folks not to cooperate with us. So we're not very pleased with the U.N. response to date.
ROTH: This is not the first letter. A torrent of mail this year from Washington lawmakers requesting documents has been rebuffed. The U.N. held firm that it can't turn over internal U.N. oil-for-food files.
FRED ECKHARD, U.N. SPOKESMAN: We would like those who are asking for these documents to have a clear understanding of why we take the position that we do. It's not to inhibit.
ROTH: Annan has said he wants all information handled by the U.N. authorized oil-for-food panel run by former Fed Chairman Paul Voelker.
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: Because you don't want to have the documents flying all over the place. and we've made our position very clear.
COLEMAN: The facts are that the U.N. is proactively -- proactively -- interfering with our ability to get information we need. That's not good for the United Nations. That's not good for the global community.
ROTH: Paul Voelker was at the U.N. Tuesday for a one-on-one meeting with Kofi Annan. The U.N. is reviewing its position, but doesn't expect to start sharing with Congress. That will, no doubt, draw even more heat on the beleaguered organization.
ROTH: The U.N. and Paul Voelker's office will talk tomorrow about slight adjustments perhaps and information sharing with the Congress. Senator Coleman says at hearings next week on Capitol Hill, he'll will reveal new information which will show the oil-for-food program had even more corruption than earlier reported -- Lou.
DOBBS: It was rather interesting, Richard, the rather condescending tone taken by the United Nations spokesman when addressing two of the most respected U.S. senators in Washington, D.C. Is there a failure to understand that this Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, are very serious about this issue?
ROTH: I think they understand here the issue is very serious. They're getting warnings and feelings coming from their colleagues in Washington that, especially post-election, the U.N. is not exactly in the catbird seat here, especially after Kofi Annan called the Iraq war illegal and last week sent a letter to the president saying beware of going into Falluja militarily.
They know this, but officials here are saying let's let Voelker do his job, back off from trying to cross-examine his witnesses and, in effect, "There are too many cooks," and the problem, Lou, is also that the U.N. deals with these governments.
Now if the Bush administration wanted to come out and start swinging, it might be different. But they don't just jump when the Duma in Russia or anywhere...
DOBBS: Well, I wouldn't, Richard, go too far comparing the Duma to the United States Senate.
ROTH: No, but that's how the U.N. is set up.
DOBBS: I understand that, and that's precisely the issue.