[The appearance of one great story by Jenna Orkin, even though dated, does little to indicate the great influence she has had on both me and FTW. She deserves, and now has, an immortalized place in FTW history. For years she has been both a dogged researcher, an adviser and the moderator of my blog. By now, those of us who have had the "map" for years are all pretty jaded as the collapse proceeds just as we predicted. But to see the even deeper levels of cyncical dishonesty in TPTB revealed anew reminds us that there will be no Santa Claus; no Tooth Fairy. These people are truly out to kill us. -- MCR]
Conflict of Interest, a 9/11 Windfall and the White House Council on Environmental Quality
James Connaughton, Cheney's Boy Wonder
June 27th, 2007 –
James Connaughton, the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality which coordinated with the National Security Council to edit EPA's press releases following 9/11, faced the music last Wednesday with a nimble tapdance.
Padded with cliche allusions to the 'unprecedented' attacks and a homespun
vignette about his son's fear that dad was dead, Connaughton's testimony at the Senate Hearing Into Federal
Government Failures on [the] Environmental Impact Of [the] 9/11 World Trade
Center Attacks deftly passed the buck, pointing out that there was a flurry of
press releases; they were the work-product of many people, and that anyway, the
public doesn't read them.
But in the course of this fancy footwork, (First the blame is over here, now
it's over there) the Chairman slipped on the banana peel of a detail.
In response to a question about the EPA Inspector General's Report of 2003
which showed how the White House CEQ "tweaked" EPA's press releases -
for instance by changing cautionary statements about asbestos to reassurances
and omitting advice to obtain professional cleaning - as well as why (in order
to reopen Wall Street) Connaughton asserted that the 9/11 Commission later did
a thorough investigation of the same issue coming to very different
During a recess, this blog asked Connaughton if, by "thorough
investigation," he was referring to the footnote on page 555 of the 9/11
Commission Report, the only mention the report makes of the environmental
aftermath of the attacks.
"I am," he replied gamely. (His demeanour throughout the hearing was
chipper, as of one who has nothing to hide, who is, in fact, eager for the
chance to tell his side of the story.)
During the Commission hearings Richard Ben-Veniste had regretfully told the
parent of a Lower Manhattan student that the Commission would not investigate
the environmental issue.
This writer relayed that information to Connaughton.
"They changed their minds after the Inspector General's Report came
out," he asserted. "They did a thorough investigation, interviewing
lots of people."
The footnote in the Commission Report containing the fruits of said
"thorough investigation" is four paragraphs long. One paragraph reads
in its entirety:
"We do not have the expertise to examine the accuracy of the
pronouncements in the press releases. The issue is the subject of pending
(This writer is one of twelve original plaintiffs in one of the pending
As for coming to very different conclusions from the Inspector General's
Report, while it is true that the Commission Report's footnote offers Whitman
some support, it also says:
"The EPA did not have the health-based benchmarks needed to assess the
extraordinary air quality conditions in Lower Manhattan after 9/11. The EPA and
the White House therefore improvised and applied standards developed for other
circumstances... Whether those improvisations were appropriate is still a subject
for medical and scientific debate. See EPA Inspector General report, 'EPA's
Response to the World Trade Center Collapse,' Aug. 21, 2003, pp. 9-19."
This writer then asked Connaughton about his less well-known but potentially
even more explosive role as Chairman of the White House Task Force on Energy
Project Streamlining which was established on the recommendation of Vice
President Dick Cheney's infamously secretive National Energy Policy Development
Group. The Task Force included representatives from 21 Federal agencies as
diverse as the Departments of Defense, the Treasury and the CIA. (Two years
later, its mandates were amended to include the security of pipelines.)
Connaughton frowned in concentration.
"Ah yes!" he said triumphantly, as though retrieving a bauble from
the depths of memory.
"How does this position expand the normal powers of the CEQ?" this
"It doesn't!" he asserted. "I inherited it."
The Task Force was created, and Connaughton appointed its Chairman, by Executive
Order 13212 on May 18 , 2001 two weeks after Connaughton was
appointed to the Council on Environmental Quality so it is difficult to
understand from whom he 'inherited' it.
Concerning why so many disparate agencies had to be involved, Connaughton said,
"The Defense Department because often the energy is located in other
countries. The CIA?.... I don't know; I don't think they came to any
Serving at the pleasure of Cheney's Energy Task Force, Connaughton and the CEQ
faithfully carried out the Vice President's environmental agenda of relaxing
regulations (that is how "streamlining" happens) the better to serve
In fact, so lax did regulations become, they managed to offend Christine Todd
Whitman, whom Cheney had brought into the EPA, a feat that is comparable to
shocking Larry Flynt.*
"It was Cheney's insistence on easing air pollution controls," says
the Washington Post, "not the personal
reasons she cited at the time, that led Christine Todd Whitman to resign as
administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency."
In response to the Inspector General's allegation that a major reason the CEQ
downplayed dangers in EPA's press releases was the need to reopen Wall Street,
much has been made of the fact that one smoking gun press release was issued after
Wall Street re-opened; ergo re-opening the markets couldn't have been a motive.
This reasoning is simplistic; bosses don't necessarily spell out their wishes.
In an article entitled "Leaving No Tracks," the Washington Post
quotes Paul Hoffman, a former Cheney Congressional aide, who says, "Cheney
never told [Hoffman] what to do... He didn't have to.
His genius is that he builds networks and puts the right people in the right
places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with
his overall vision."
Through the CEQ, Cheney turns up again in the furor over climate change. When
NASA scientists complained of the Bush Administration's censorship of the
issue, (once again by editing press releases) the spotlight fell on one Philip
Cooney, who reported to Connaughton.
...And the Horse He Rode In On
Before becoming the eager hatchet man of the White House's environmental
policies, James Connaughton was a partner in Sidley, Austin, Brown and Wood,
which has been ranked among the top five law firms representing the 250
largest companies in the U.S. for business litigation
and as the top provider of legal services to the hedge
Clients have included J.P. Morgan Securities, Deutsche Bank, Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, Monsanto
and GlaxoSmithKline. Sidley Austin represented
Searle when it was cleared of price fixing and Marathon Oil when the federal government was
ordered to provide it with a refund for the infringement of drilling rights.
The ties between Sidley Austin and the Bush Administration are extensive.
Besides Connaughton, partner Patrick Morrisey has served as the Deputy
Staff Director and Chief Health Counsel to the House Energy &
Commerce Committee; Sidley's Senior Government Affairs Advisor, Dean Clancy is the former Program Associate
Director of the Office of Management and Budget. According to the Washington Post, Clancy is a
"'proclaimer' for the Separation of School and State Alliance, which
favors home schooling over compulsory public education in order to 'integrate
God and education.'" In addition to opposing public schools, Clancy also
opposes stem-cell research and federal taxes for which reasons Esquire magazine
calls him "a fanatic."
In 2007 President Bush appointed Sidley Austin partner Daniel M. Price, who had served in The Hague
as the U.S. Deputy Agent to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, as Deputy National
Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs.
Then there is Bradford Berenson who returned to Sidley
Austin Brown & Wood after two years as Associate Counsel to the President
According to his biography on Sidley's website, his
responsibilities to the President "included work on judicial
selection, executive privilege, and responses to congressional oversight
efforts. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, he played a significant
role in the executive branchÕs counterterrorism response. He worked on the USA
Patriot Act, the military order authorizing the use of military commissions,
detainee policy and anti-terrorism litigation, presidential action against
terrorist financing, and the restructuring of the federal government to create
a new Department of Homeland Security...
He previously worked on the defense of complex white collar criminal
Mr. Berenson has defended criminal cases at every stage of development,
from corporate internal investigations and grand jury proceedings through
trials, sentencings, and appeals, in areas as diverse as government contracts,
environmental crime, health care, and public corruption."
Conflict of Interest Alive and Well
At the White House Berenson worked closely with Cheney's Chief of Staff, David Addington, and fended off critics who
demanded the recusal of Judge Antonin Scalia, after he went duck hunting with
Cheney, in the Sierra Club case demanding access to Energy
Task Force records.
Conflict of interest objections were apparently waived in this case because the
Government Accounting Office also hired Sidley Austin
to sue Cheney to obtain a list of officials from Enron and other companies who
met with the energy task force.
The ubiquitous Mr. Berenson also served as the attorney for former Rove
assistant Susan Ralston during the investigation of White House ties to Jack Abramoff as well as for Kyle
Sampson, Alberto Gonzalez' Chief of Staff. He defended the habeas corpus stripping provisions of the military
commissions bill and has stated:
"[T]he Geneva Conventions do not apply to Al Qaeda terrorists." (p.
He has also maintained that the "process that's now in place in Guantanamo
is, in many ways, superior to an Article V process.... [The prisoners] all get
annual administrative review board hearings, and this is far in excess of the
international law obligations and the law of war obligations." (p. 55)
Like Connaughton, Berenson is a zealous executant of the Cheney philosophy,
stating, "[W]hen we are at war, we weigh the risks to innocents entirely
differently than we do when we are not at war. Grievous damage to the lives and
liberties and property of innocents are a regrettable but daily function of a
state of armed conflict, of warfare the kinds of injuries that are totally
unredressable in war time, but which we would never tolerate in peace time, if
we were not at war." (p. 17)
And concerning executive privilege, he stated: "It's the President in time
of war, the executive branch that's responsible for our security." (p. 18)
Cleverly, he suggests that a little fascism wards off the prospect of worse:
"Were there to be more attacks on the scale of 9/11 or God forbid worse,
there would inevitably be a far more draconian response than we've seen thus
far. And so in the name of preventing that kind of response, which the public
would demand, and in the name of ensuring our ultimate victory over an
Islamo-fascist ideology, a religiously inspired fascist ideology, that is as
illiberal as any the world has ever seen, we all need to keep first and
foremost in our minds the need to wage this war effectively and ensure that the
forces of right and the forces of liberalism and democracy prevail in the
end." (p. 20)
Sidley Austin, then, may be justifiably described as an eminence grise of the
powers that be. But lest it be viewed as biassed towards the right, it is also
the law firm where, as a summer associate, Barack Obama met his future wife, Michelle.
How Sidley Survived 9/11 Not Only "Intact...."
On 9/11 Sidley Austin, which had merged with Brown and Wood in May 2001, (the
same month that Connaughton left for the White House) had its offices in the
World Trade Center. In an article written in 2003, Sidley describes how
it accomplished the feat of "surviv[ing] 9/11 with vital records and
Some of these vital records which included client, personnel, vendor and
services lists, backup tapes, floor plans with personnel locations identified,
inventory lists of equipment, furniture, and supplies, procedures manuals,
docket calendars, and blank checks, "were available because they were part
of a planned dispersal in which they had been copied and sent offsite for safe
keeping." Weekly computer backup tapes were also being
stored in New Jersey.
The article is written in a breathless style, pausing to pay lip service to the
dreadfulness of the day before going on to the myriad resourceful steps Sidley
had taken to the benefit of their cherished clients.
Then comes the punchline. As far as Sidley Austin is concerned, September 11
had a silver lining made of real silver.
...But Also With A Windfall
In addition to all its other prudent measures, on September 1, 2001, Sidley had
taken the extraordinarily felicitous step of not only renewing but also of
doubling its insurance.
"When it was announced that the firm's insurance policies had just been
renewed and doubled on September 1, 2001, applause filled the room. The
insurance policies not only covered reconstruction costs for the files but for
the organization's valuable art collection and personal effects as well."
This move joins a distinguished line of coincidences leading up to the attacks such as
highly anomalous put options on United and American Airlines ;
numerous war games including "practice
Armageddons" which diverted planes away from the East Coast and introduced
chaff onto the radar screens to paralyze pilots who wanted to respond; as well
as dozens of warnings to agencies which are normally
overlooked by the mainstream press.
Assessing its recovery plan from the attack, Sidley confesses that "some
individuals listed as having supervisory roles in the disaster recovery plan
ended up not having job assignments, which was frustrating to those sitting
around on 9/11. Part of the problem stemmed from a lack of testing of the plan
the year before."
But despite the frustration, over all "the firm," to use a
Grishamesque phrase, dubbed its recovery effort a success.
One Minor Glitch
And so the reader comes away believing, even after encountering this sentence:
"By September 13, only one individual had not been located."
Written this way, the account relays the information concerning 'only one
individual,' as an example of yet another triumph. What the article neglects to
say, however, though it was published nearly two years after the disaster, is
that the reason the individual was "not located" is that she was dead.
A telephone operator who dreamed of opening a candy business, Rosemary Smith was the only member of the firm
not to make it out of the building alive. And while Sidley mentions her
elsewhere on its website and has apparently put up a memorial to her somewhere
in its offices, it is difficult to understand what the writer of the article
means by the phrase, 'employees intact.'
The "good news" about the firm's assets, however, seems to be
*Jenna Orkin is one of twelve original plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit
against Christine Todd Whitman and the EPA
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