Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The fires of corruption

Just imagine, for a moment, what would have happened during the Clinton administration if a Democratic congressman had run afoul of the law and was under investigation by federal authorities, only to have them called off the case by high-ranking administration officials after they met with said congressman.

Imagine the kind of "scandal" that would be generated by the right-wing propaganda machine over such a case. Imagine the cries of "corruption" and "cronyism" that would emanate from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, nonstop. Imagine the demands for a full investigation of the situation.

Well, we've known for a long time that a double standard is in play with both the media and the American right when it comes to illegal and corrupt behavior. It's only a scandal if a Democrat is involved; it's OK, of course, if you're a Republican.

Now consider the case of South Carolina Rep. Henry Brown, who, as reported by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, set a fire on his private property that he negligently allowed to burn out of control. Forest Service officials were preparing to charge him accordingly -- but were called off by the Bush administration:
On March 5, 2004, Rep. Brown conducted a prescribed burn on his property adjoining the national forest. Brown had a state permit authorizing a 25-acre burn but he set the fire on a day in which a "Red Flag Alert" was issued due to high winds. The fire quickly burned more than 200 acres of Brown's land and crossed over into the national forest, burning another 20 acres there. The Forest Service needed a helicopter, three fire engines and a bulldozer to bring the fire under control. A Forest Service review of the fire found that Brown was negligent:

"Mr. Brown was not adequately prepared to detect, or adequately equipped to suppress, the escaped fire on 5 March 2004 with only two men, a bucket of water, and no means of delivery of that water to the escaped fire."

... When Forest Service officials informed Rep. Brown that he would be cited for the fire, the Congressman expressed concern that his political opponents would find out about it and warned that if the Forest Service persisted its programs "might need to be scrutinized more closely." Brown then reportedly contacted agency officials at higher and higher levels without receiving the assurance of non-prosecution. It was not until he met with Agriculture Undersecretary Rey, a former timber lobbyist, that he extracted a promise to drop the matter. Even after agency specialists ruled that the collections requirement could not be waived, on August 24th, law enforcement agents were directed by email, "we are to take no action."

As the PEER spokesman suggested, this is a matter of corruption, pure and simple. That Brown has behaved corruptly -- the subject of a Charleston Post and Courier report -- is only part of the story.

The real issue, of course, is the behavior of Mark Rey:
In early May, Brown met with Bosworth and Natural Resources and Environment Undersecretary Mark Rey, a Bush appointee and former timber industry lobbyist.

The complaint says Brown told the men "he was concerned about being issued a (ticket) and about being billed for the costs of suppressing the fire, especially because this was an election year."

Bosworth told Brown he would not be billed, the complaint says, and USDA staff attorneys looked for a way to legally get out of charging the congressman. One memo said the chief "has a real credibility issue here," according to the complaint.

Two days later, Gregory was ordered not to ticket Brown. He was told the order came from Rey.

Rey's office said Tuesday, however, that the case had not been closed. Through a spokesman, Rey said he could not comment further.

But don't hold your breath waiting for anyone in the so-called liberal national media to even bother addressing this.

[Via GOTV.]

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