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Bush's First Crime: A Cold Case Warms Up

By       Message Russ Wellen     Permalink
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"In the corporate world, some things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures."

-- George W. Bush

The reluctance of Congressional Democratic leaders to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Bush may be frustrating. But there's an upside. For anyone seeking to file charges against Bush in lieu of impeachment, it relieves the urgency and buys time to make their case that much more airtight. Henry Waxman's House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform alone is conducting 20 investigations.

We're also afforded the opportunity to arrange his crimes in chronological order, starting with the first. Remember Harken Energy Corporation and the charge that Bush used insider knowledge to make almost $850,000 selling his stock in the company?

Harken, on whose board Bush sat, was a Texas oil company engaging in oil and gas exploration, development and production. It's still in existence, but on June 6 it changed its name to HKN, Inc. It actually showed a profit at the end of the first quarter this year, as opposed to last. Yet it still felt compelled to announce a reverse stock split, which is considered either a gimmick to make a stock look more attractive to investors or a red flag that it's about to take a dive.

To refresh your memory, Harken's difficulties were more pronounced in 1990, when it was hoping for one last strike in Texas before the state was tapped out. As soon as Bush joined the board, another company came to its aid -- Harvard Management ("Harvard"). Why Harvard?

Not only had Bush obtained his MBA from Harvard, but a former Harken chairman of the board was also a Harvard alumni, while two Harvard Management Company officers owned substantial amounts of Harken stock. Besides, as a not-for-profit organization, Harvard had no shareholders to whom the principals need answer for questionable transactions.

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As if that weren't enough, in November 1990, Harken formed an off-the-books partnership with Harvard in order to move debt and poorly performing assets off its books and onto those of Harvard. This helped disguise how much of a risk investing in Harken had become.

But it got a shot in the arm when, perhaps out of allegiance to Bush's Arab-friendly father and then president, the country of Bahrain awarded Harken an exclusive contract to explore a new oil field in the Persian Gulf despite its lack of international experience. The billionaire Bass brothers of Texas also chipped in, to subsidize the drilling.

As expected, Harken's stock, of which Bush Jr. owned a sizeable share, took off. Yet, in June 1990, though the ceiling seemed to be nowhere in sight, he decided to unload 212,010 shares ostensibly to buy a new house, though he used it instead to pay off a loan he'd taken out when buying a stake in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Harken attorneys warned Bush that he was liable to be scrutinized for possession of "material non-public information." As a board member, he was not only privy to Harken's problems, he himself put forth the motion for the off-the-books partnership with Harvard. With characteristic defiance, Bush went ahead with the deal anyway. His insistence that the buyer remain anonymous didn't help allay suspicions.

Though unexplored by the SEC, there was another dimension to the insider trading charge –- the imminence of the Gulf War. Had the White House leaked news of its planned attack to Bush? Perhaps more to the point, could the White House not have let him in on it? Sure enough, when Iraq actually invaded Kuwait, Harken's shares, in part because of concern about the difficulties of drilling for oil during war-time, decreased 25%.

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In any event, the Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation came to a premature end. Though no evidence of impropriety was found, it should be borne in mind that the SEC chairman at the time was a friend of the Bush family who had been nominated by Bush Sr. Still, the SEC said that closing the case "must in no way be construed" as an indication that "the party has been exonerated or that no action may ultimately result."

In retrospect, the SEC's statement resembles a cry for help from its rank and file. Will someone out there whose hands aren't tied please re-open the case? Ironically, it's in Harvard's SEC filing of its Harken transactions where evidence of Bush's wrongdoing can be found hiding in plain sight.

All that's known of the purchaser of Bush's stock is that it was institutional. Was it Harvard again? There's no mention in Harvard's SEC filing that it took Bush's Harken stock off his hands. And what if it did?

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Russ Wellen is the nuclear deproliferation editor for OpEdNews. He's also on the staffs of Freezerbox and Scholars & Rogues.

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