Homeland Security For Sale

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Crime, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Not surprisingly (to most of us), it is now becoming apparent that 9/11 was viewed by many Republicans as simply a way to make money for those with connections.

No, I’m not talking about Halliburton (although they certainly fit the bill).  I’m talking about this:

WASHINGTON – As the Homeland Security Department was starting up, Secretary Tom Ridge twice stayed overnight at the Arizona home of a wealthy friend who ran a lobbying firm that was aggressively expanding its homeland security business.

The Blank Rome firm, whose chairman is former Ridge fund-raiser David Girard-diCarlo, later hired two of Ridge’s aides to lobby the new department, and some of the firm’s clients eventually landed lucrative contracts, according to documents and interviews.

Ridge and Girard-diCarlo worked together in Pennsylvania, raising over $400,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 1999 and 2000. Before that, Girard-diCarlo had helped Ridge raise money as Pennsylvania governor.

Ridge left his job as Pennsylvania governor to serve Bush in coordinating a homeland security strategy inside the White House in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A year later, he was named the first secretary of the new Homeland Security Department.

The day after the department’s creation on Nov. 25, 2002, Ridge flew to Arizona with his wife and stayed overnight for two or three days in Girard-diCarlo’s gated-community home, officials say. Six days before Ridge’s visit, Girard-diCarlo had taken out a $3 million loan on the newly built home.

The month after the trip, the first of two Ridge White House aides left the government and went to work for Girard-diCarlo’s firm focusing on homeland security issues.

That aide, Mark Holman, has been "the closest governmental and political adviser to Secretary Tom Ridge for over 18 years," a federal contractor proclaimed in promotional material for a seminar series for which Holman was a featured speaker. Holman, Ridge’s chief of staff during his years as Pennsylvania governor, had worked briefly for Girard-diCarlo’s firm before Ridge brought him to the White House.

Ridge’s office says the secretary and Girard-diCarlo did not discuss Holman’s departure during the Arizona visit.

A federal conflict-of-interest law barred Holman from lobbying the White House for a year after his departure. The restriction, however, didn’t extend to Ridge’s new agency.

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers called it "intolerable" that Ridge’s White House aides were free to lobby the Homeland Security Department.

It "mocks the ethics rules. If it’s allowed, it reveals a gaping hole in the law," Gillers said.

Steven L. Schooner, co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University, says the Bush administration is sending a message by standing by Ridge’s trips.

"When Ridge makes clear that he is not worried about appearances, we should not be surprised when the public concludes that government cannot be trusted," Schooner said.

Read the whole ugly thing.