Thanks to a well-timed lawyerly belch that interrupted the flow of the Kazakhgate scandal oozing out of a federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, Dick Cheney may not have to announce tonight in midtown Manhattan that he’s stepping aside as George W. Bush‘s running mate.
Attorneys for John Ashcroft‘s Justice Department have been rebuked by federal judge Bill Pauley for dragging their heels in releasing government documents in the Kazakhgate scandal. (See the July 21 Bush Beat for background info.) That means the trial of U.S. businessman James Giffen, charged with laundering millions of dollars of oil company bribes on behalf of Kazakhstan dictator Nursultan Nazarbayev, likely won’t start in early October, as originally scheduled. If it did, it would be a most unwelcome October surprise for the Bush regime—reporters will flock to that case like flies to shit, whenever it actually goes to trial.
While Cheney was CEO of Halliburton, just before he quit to run with Bush, he was a member of the dicatator’s Oil Advisory Board. That was during the period when Giffen was the dictator’s No. 1 factotum.
You won’t read much in the daily press about the pretrial maneuverings in this staggering case. But such energetic reporters as Alec Appelbaum and Marlena Telvick are writing about it for overseas outlets. Appelbaum’s latest piece for Eurasianet notes that at a July 29 hearing, Pauley chastised prosecutors in the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office for what Appelbaum called “tardy submission” of documents.
That tardiness may be understandable, because the documents could be explosive. Appelbaum sums up the charges neatly:
The U.S. government contends that Giffen violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by facilitating the payment of $78 million into personal accounts controlled by top Kazakhstani officials, in connection with a $1 billion deal between the government and Mobil Oil Corp.
Giffen’s lawyers, according to published reports, contend that the U.S. government knew full well what he was doing with Nazarbayev and that the American business consultant was actually acting as a sort of agent for U.S. intelligence and government officials. Pauley closed the courtroom 30 minutes into that late-July hearing after prosecutors requested it on national-security grounds.
Naturally, Nazarbayev has been extremely unhappy about the Giffen case. Back in December 2002, Jeff Gerth of The New York Times reported that the dictator and his aides “have raised the issue with Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior aides several times.” Here’s how Gerth described that lobbying effort:
Reid H. Weingarten, a Washington attorney for Kazakhstan, touched on the problem in a lengthy letter he sent in September to Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson, asking him to intervene.
“I am deeply concerned that foreign relations between the United States and the Republic of Kazakhstan—an important ally in the war on terrorism with significant oil and gas reserves in an unstable geographical region—will deteriorate if prosecutors maintain their pursuit of the documents in Kazakhstan and continue to aggressively investigate Kazakh government officials,” Mr. Weingarten wrote.
Gerth wrote that Washington “rebuffed” that request to lay off the case. But that was before Giffen’s lawyers pressed their defense that he was operating in oil-rich Kazakhstan on behalf of U.S. government officials.
Swiss officials froze more than $120 million of Kazakh money in a bank account controlled by Nazarbayev, Gerth reported, and two of the dictator’s top aides complained about that during a video conference with Cheney in October 2001—the vice president was still hiding out during the post–9-11 period.
After the Cheney conversation, Gerth reported, one of his aides and a State Department official “both made queries to the Justice Department about the investigation.” But when the vicious, petty, tinpot dictator Nazarbayev later visited the White House as an honored guest and talked to Bush, the president told him, according to Gerth, that there was nothing he could do about the investigation.
It’s not known whether the technique of “dragging your heels” in releasing documents was discussed. The vice president certainly has experience with that, considering the difficulty others had of prying loose any records of Cheney’s “energy task force.”
To keep the lid on the Kazakhgate case (while also protecting the slobbering interest of U.S. oil companies, speculators, and other sharks in the lucrative Caspian Basin) might take the full attention of even a sharp pol like Cheney. Russia and the U.S. are already locking horns over Central Asia, and China’s involved, too. It’s a complex and dangerous game of geopolitics, trying to decide which corrupt rulers to bribe and which ones to otherthrow. A major corruption case like Kazakhgate threatens to erode U.S. influence in—and profits from—that entire part of the planet.
Cheney could always cite health problems as a reason to gracefully withdraw from the GOP ticket. But now that Kazakhgate probably won’t erupt into a gusher of bad publicity until after the election, he might not need to.