WASHINGTON — Former Attorney General John Ashcroft responded angrily on Tuesday to Congressional Democrats who suggested that a no-bid private contract awarded to him by the Justice Department last year amounted to a “backroom, sweetheart deal” that would earn his consulting firm tens of millions of dollars.
“There is not a conflict, there is not an appearance of a conflict,” Mr. Ashcroft said at a hearing of a House Judiciary subcommittee called to explore the circumstances of the contract.
Ms. Sanchez opened the hearing by suggesting that the department’s decision last year to award a monitoring contract worth between $28 million to $52 million to Mr. Ashcroft’s firm, as part of an out-of-court settlement with a medical supply company under criminal investigation, presented the appearance of a conflict, since it was made by officials who had been Mr. Ashcroft’s subordinates.
“You don’t believe that it may be a conflict of interest in a former employee hiring the former boss, or suggesting that he be hired, for a very lucrative contract?” she asked.
The 18-month monitoring contract requires Mr. Ashcroft to make sure that the Indiana company, Zimmer Holdings, complies with the terms of its settlement of kickback allegations. She described it as a “sweetheart deal” in which “Mr. Ashcroft was selected with no public notice and no bidding.”
Zimmer is one of four manufacturers of replacement hips and knees that got into trouble for making kickbacks to doctors. As part of the settlement deal, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Chris Christie awarded his former boss this multimillion-dollar, no-bid contract. And Mr. Ashcroft is shocked, shocked, I tell you, that there is any appearance of impropriety. How dare those godless Democrats question his integrity.
Republicans in the House agreed, predictably, that Ashcroft is a swell Christian dude and no one should question anything he does now that he’s a super-honest lobbyist--“the anti-Abramaoff,” as the New York Times described in its fawning March 2006 profile.
Representative Tom Feeney, a Florida Republican, said it was “fundamentally wrong” to question the credentials of Mr. Ashcroft, who is “perhaps the most qualified individual in the country” on the sorts of issues faced by a corporate monitor in the health care industry, because of his record at the Justice Department in prosecuting large health-care companies.
Oh really? Which ones would that be? Like the Don Siegelman case, for instance?
Anyway, even though there was nothing wrong with the way the no-bid monitoring contract was awarded, the Dept. of Justice decided to make some new guidelines on the awarding of future such deals. Just because:
On Monday, the Justice Department announced internal guidelines for the selection of monitors in out-of-court settlements with large companies. The new guidelines are intended in part to avoid the sort of conflict-of-interest accusations that followed the disclosure of Mr. Ashcroft’s contract.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, suggested at the hearing that the new guidelines may not go far enough, and that Congress may consider legislation to impose new rules for the selection of monitors.
“We must assure the public that the Department of Justice is not rewarding political allies in a forum where prosecutorial independence is absolutely necessary,” he said.
Well, that would be a refreshing change.