Aide to Clarke Settled Conflict Case
Roger Cressey, a former deputy to ex-White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, was investigated for allegedly violating federal conflict-of-interest statutes shortly before leaving the Bush administration in 2002, according to newly released materials from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
Cressey, one of only 10 federal government employees pursued by the Justice Department under conflict-of-interest statutes in 2003, ultimately entered into a settlement agreement in which he paid a civil penalty of $5,000 to resolve the allegations.
Cressey, who served as Clarke’s chief of staff in the Clinton and Bush White Houses and who now serves as a prominent terrorism analyst on NBC News, has made numerous public statements that supported the allegations Clarke made during in a high-profile appearance before the bipartisan 9/11 commission and in a bestselling book, “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror.” Clarke and Cressey contend that the Bush White House mishandled warnings about terrorist activity prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
What is less widely known is that Cressey left his post under Clarke in September 2002 under criminal investigation by the Justice Department. Justice officials were looking into whether Cressey violated criminal conflict-of-interest statues by allegedly negotiating for a job with an unnamed private company at the same time he recommended that the same company receive a government contract worth $600,000.
Cressey, who formed an Arlington, Va.-based terrorism-consulting business with Clarke called Good Harbor LLC, was traveling Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite three attempts to reach him on those days, he did not respond to inquiries for this story.
Cressey also appears frequently as a terrorism analyst on NBC and is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. A call to NBC’s corporate communications office on Wednesday was not returned.
Under Section 208 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, it is illegal for government employees to “participate personally and substantially as a Government officer or employee” in a matter affecting an organization with which the government employee is negotiating for prospective employment.
At the time of his alleged violation, Cressey was in the Bush administration serving as chief of staff for the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board in the Office of Homeland Security, where he handled all matters of personnel, budget and administration.
According to the Office of Government Ethics summary, which was included in the 2003 Conflict of Interest Prosecution Survey released on July 6, Cressey had “recommended and participated in the proposed procurement of a support contract for the board in the amount of approximately $600,000” for the unnamed company.
No later than July 9, 2002, Cressey began “negotiating for employment with the company,” the OGE documents say.
On July 16, 2002, according to the OGE, Cressey asked the acting general counsel for the White House office of administration for help in finalizing the support contract for the company.
On July 18, Cressey visited the same company to interview for a job. The next day he contacted the White House Counsel seeking to recuse himself from all matter related to the company.
The company offered Cressey a job on July 23, and on July 24 Cressey was given a recusal memorandum, “which he executed immediately,” before accepting the company’s employment offer on Aug. 1, 2002.
But by the time the company was awarded the PCIPB contract in September, Cressey’s plans were unraveling, the documents state.
“Upon learning of conflict of interest concerns by the White House Counsel’s Office, Cressey informed the White House Counsel’s Office that the company had withdrawn its job offer and he would not begin employment with the company,” the OGE’s document says.
The White House then referred the matter to the Justice Department, which alleged that Cressey had violated federal conflict-of-interest statutes with his actions.
According to the Justice Department, Cressey paid a $5,000 civil penalty to avoid prosecution and to settle the allegations but disputed that there was any violation.
When contacted this week, Justice Department officials refused to provide Roll Call with a copy of the settlement agreement, even though the department’s own press release said it was made public April 7, 2003.
Revelations about Cressey’s alleged conflict of interest not only raise questions about the past judgment of a notable anti-terrorism expert and critic of the Bush administration, but also come on the heels of two other cases in which officials have faced scrutiny for negotiating with companies they could directly influence through their senior federal posts.
Darleen Druyun, the deputy acquisition chief for the Air Force, joined Boeing as a senior vice president in January 2003, but was fired after the company learned that she held job negotiations while supervising Boeing contracts, including a tanker-jets deal worth billions of dollars to the company. In April, Druyun pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and was reportedly cooperating with prosecutors.
In another high-profile case, Tom Scully, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services appointed by President Bush, acknowledged discussing job offers with companies that could be affected by a major Medicare-reform bill he was helping craft simultaneously. While Scully had received an advance waiver from the Health and Human Services Department to discuss potential jobs, public criticism of Scully’s actions reportedly led White House Chief of Staff Andy Card to announce that all future waivers would have to come from the White House.
Some experts play down Cressey’s alleged infraction. Stan Brand, a Washington-based defense attorney who specializes in ethics, compared it, and the fine, to a “speeding ticket.”
“His violation sounds like it was very short, and he acted in pursuance of remedying it, so that probably counts for why he essentially got a fine and moved on,” Brand said. “It doesn’t sound to me like it was a big deal.”
Brand added that cases brought under this section of the conflict-of-interest statute aren’t exactly commonplace. “It’s a fairly esoteric part of the … provisions,” Brand said.
In “Against All Enemies,” Clarke takes credit for molding Cressey into a “career national security practitioner.”
“I had hired him as a civil service employee at the State Department 10 years earlier. To give him some real-world experience, I had sent him on assignment to the embassy in Tel Aviv. Later, in 1993, I asked him to go to Mogadishu as an aide to Admiral Jonathan T. Howe, who had left the White House job as Deputy National Security Advisor to be, in effect, the U.N.’s governor in Somalia,” Clarke wrote.
After working with the United Nations peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia, Cressey joined the civilian office in the Pentagon that reviewed the military’s war plans. He finally rejoined Clarke at the White House in November 1999.
There he served as director for Transnational Threats on the National Security Council staff, a job in which he was responsible for coordinating and implementing U.S. counter-terrorism policy, including managing the government’s response to the Millennium terror alert, the USS Cole attack and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Clarke, who left his post as White House cybersecurity czar roughly five months after Cressey’s departure, has said that both he and Cressey had requested to be transferred from their terrorism posts in June 2001 because they had both grown “so frustrated with the administration’s lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism that we no longer wanted to work on the issue.”
Clarke’s account of their grievances noted that Cressey was particularly fed up by a pre-Sept. 11 bureaucratic dispute over using an armed unmanned aircraft known as the Predator to take out al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
“It sounds terrible, but we used to say to each other that some people didn’t get it … it was going to take body bags,” Cressey told The New Yorker magazine.