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In the Crossfire

Is there partisanship in the SEC?

(CNN) -- Is there a need for a special prosecutor to rein in corporate wrongdoers? Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Michigan, believes there is room in Washington, D.C., for removing partisanship from the Securities & Exchange Commission. He steps into the "Crossfire" with Rep. Tom Davis, R-Virginia, to debate this idea with hosts Robert Novak and Paul Begala.

NOVAK: Right now, we're talking about Washington's newfound zeal, cracking down on corporate evildoers.

John Conyers, after all the agony that the country went through, all of the whining and bleeding by Democrats about the treatment of poor Bill Clinton, are you really saying you want a special prosecutor to look into the business proposition of a president long before he was president?

CONYERS: No, Bob, I am not calling for a special prosecutor. I am calling for a special counsel that can be appointed by any secretary or head of SEC, like Mr. [Harvey] Pitt. It's quite a difference.

NOVAK: What is the difference?

CONYERS: Well, the difference is that the special prosecutor operates independently from the Department of Justice, the special counsel is appointed by, for example, Director Pitt, and would work as a special deputy for him.

But it would relieve Mr. Pitt from the allegations of all the people he represented in the business world that would likely be coming up under review. It's a good way to get some of the partisanship out of the investigation.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, let me suggest another way he could get the partisanship out of the investigation, at least so far as President Bush and his conduct at Harken Energy is concerned. He was as a director, supportive of what turned out to be a very controversial deal to spin off a subsidiary to insiders in the company in a way that hid the true losses of the company and the Securities & Exchange Commission later said that that was not appropriate.

But Bush won't release the Securities & Exchange Commission records. I think it's because Securities & Exchange Commission never interviewed Bush, never interviewed the CEO, never interviewed any officers or any directors of that firm. But why doesn't Bush just release them? What's the harm of calling on the SEC to release all the records of when Bush was investigated for insider trading?

DAVIS: You know, Paul, this was a long time ago. You had people at the SEC who were career investigators look at this. They found no wrongdoing at the time. Some of these documents have been -- the American people want to look ahead. They want a president that's going to solve their problems, not go digging into the past. We've had a lot of that over the previous years. It's really time...

BEGALA: And you supported it, sir!

DAVIS: No evidence of wrongdoing...

BEGALA: With respect, Congressman, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but with respect, as I said to you, the Securities & Exchange Commission never interviewed Bush, never interviewed the CEO, never interviewed any officers or directors. That's why Mr. Conyers thinks we need a special counsel, don't you?

DAVIS: No, they had career investigators look at this. I don't know what they did and what they didn't do, and neither do you...

BEGALA: Yes, I do, I know they never interviewed any of those people, because they admitted that to the Dallas Morning News, sir. It's been in the newspapers.

DAVIS: But we don't know who they interviewed at this point, and there may not have been a need to interview him given the evidence that came forward at the time and the third parties they interviewed.


NOVAK: The career -- the career person who was there was not a Republican, Mr. McClukus (ph) said that it was a perfectly good investigation and there was no need...

BEGALA: Maybe so. So release the records.

NOVAK: But Mr. Conyers, I want to quote something that you said. John Conyers, Jr., Democrat of Michigan. And I think this is a very interesting quote. We're going to put it up on the screen. You said -- Mr. Conyers said, quote: "I'm personally outraged that we would decapitate the commander in chief at a time when we are at war abroad. Republicans sacrificed the national security by doing so. To be spending time of this House to smear our commander in chief when brave men and women are risking their lives for their country shocks the conscience."

You said that on December 19, 1998, about Bill Clinton. Isn't that a little embarrassing now that you're going out for some kind of witch-hunt against George W. Bush?

CONYERS: Well, no, it's perfectly consistent, Bob. You see, what I'm trying to do is take it away from the partisanship and have a special council appointed by Mr. Pitt himself. Don't you see, that's not partisanship. That's ending partisanship.

NOVAK: Well, see I thought the...

CONYERS: Don't you think that helps?

NOVAK: I though the independent counsel they named against President Clinton was supposed to be outside the partisanship, outside of the Janet Reno partisanship and something that was independent. Wasn't that the idea?

CONYERS: Well, yes, sir, that was. But the way that happens is the attorney general goes to the court. The court appoints a three-judge court, appoints the special prosecutor, which happened, as it turned out, to be Kenneth Starr.

But what we do in this situation is much less dramatic. The director, Harvey Pitt, merely appoints a prominent attorney investigator to do these investigations for him so that we can't accuse anybody of partisanship. That, I think, is just the opposite of what you may be implying.




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