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Bush Gives Speech on Corporate Responsibility

Aired September 26, 2002 - 11:19   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go back to Washington now. President Bush now is beginning some remarks. He's at an event talking about corporate responsibility.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... in the promise of growth and integrity. For the sake of our free market, corporate criminals must pay a price.

Today, I want to thank all of you -- U.S. attorneys, senior prosecutors, FBI special agents, senior Treasury and IRS officials and many others -- I want to thank you for your efforts, and I want to thank you for the progress which is being made.

Your mandate is to root out crime from corporate America's board rooms and executive suites. Your mission is to protect the rights and interest of American workers and investors. And your work is essential to our nation.

Particularly want to thank Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is doing an excellent job as our attorney general.

I also want to thank Elaine Chao, secretary of labor, for her hard work.

I appreciate Harvey Pitt, who is the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

BUSH: He's doing a fine job. As is Michael Powell, the chairman of the FCC; Jim Newsome, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Larry Thompson, who's in charge of the president's task force to root out corporate fraud as deputy attorney general; Michael Chertoff, the assistant attorney general of the criminal division of the Department of Justice; Jim Comey, U.S. attorney, Southern District of New York; and Debra Yang, U.S. attorney, Central District of California.

I want to thank them for being up here on the stage with me. I want to thank them for their fabulous leadership in doing what's right for America.


Since the exposure of recent corporate scandals, we have taken a series of strong measures. The American people need to know we're acting, we're moving, and we're moving fast. The Securities and Exchange Commission has hired 50 new personnel to support their efforts to ensure that business in America is open and honest and to confront it when it's not. More help is on the way.

I've signed the most far-reaching reform of American business practices since the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt. With this law, we're making sure that the numbers are honest and the numbers are understandable. We're making sure the auditors are audited and the accountants are held to account.

And one of the most aggressive steps we've taken has been to create the new Corporate Fraud Task Force, headed by Larry, to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, to recover the proceeds of those crimes and hold corporate criminals to account.

This task force includes members of the Justice Department and the FBI, U.S. attorneys from around the country. It includes the SEC and the Treasury and Labor Departments, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

This broad effort is sending a clear warning and a clear message to every dishonest corporate leader: You will be exposed and you'll be punished. No board room in America is above or beyond the law.

I set this mandate, and today I want to give a report to the American people on the progress, the great progress which you all are making. Our law enforcement agencies are after them, they're acting. Since the task force was formed just two and a half months ago, the Department of Justice has opened more than 100 investigations into suspected corporate fraud. In two and a half months, 100 cases have been opened. Charges have been filed against more than 150 defendants. In two and a half months, 150 people have been charged. And more than 45 defendants have been convicted or intend to plead guilty. In two and a half months, 45 people have been brought to justice.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is also acting. In the past year, the SEC has filed a record 156 actions for financial fraud and disclosure violations, a 51 percent increase over fiscal year 2000.

During the same period, the SEC has sought to throw 107 unfit officers and directors out of corporate board rooms, almost three times the number that the SEC sought to bar in fiscal 2000.

BUSH: The SEC is aggressively using its enforcement powers to make corporate wrongdoers financially accountable for their actions. This fiscal year, the SEC has sought to recover compensation, bonuses and stock options from 25 corporate officers who betrayed the public trust; an almost 40 percent increase over last year.

By all these actions, we are making broad and dramatic progress against corporate fraud in America. We're defending our free enterprise system against corruption and crime. And we're beginning a new era of corporate integrity.

Corporate responsibility is essential to America. It's essential to shareholders. It is essential to investors. It matters greatly to employees.

In February, I proposed important pension reforms. We must give our workers better access to investment advice so they can manage their money wisely. And right now, too many workers are locked into plans that force them to hold a large portion of their accounts in the company's stock. Workers ought to be able to diversify for three years in the company's plan.

The House quickly passed these reforms. They moved swiftly. The Senate hasn't, and they need to act, as well. It's good for American workers. It's good for job creation. It'll be good for our economy.

Underlying everything we have done so far and all the actions we'll take in the future is a basic conviction: The American economy depends on fairness and honesty. It's not a jungle in which only the unscrupulous survive or a financial free-for-all guided only by greed. That's not the America we know.

The fundamentals of a free market, buying and selling, saving and investing, require clear rules and confidence and fairness. The vast majority of American business men and women obey the law and uphold the rules. The vast majority of our fellow citizens care deeply about employees and shareholders.

BUSH: They bring great credit to the system. And those who break the rules and betray the confidence of their employees and shareholders will be punished.

Government cannot and should not try to remove risk from investment, but we will help ensure that the risks are honest and the risks are clearly understood. We will hold corporate criminal accountable for their misdeeds, and we will deter corporate crimes by enforcing tough penalties.

By doing this work so well, you are serving the American people. You're serving the American people with distinction. You're leaving a legacy of responsibility behind. You're making the country a better place. And for that I'm grateful, and so are the American people.

May God bless you all. May God bless your families. And may God bless America.

HARRIS: President Bush this morning addressing a crowd there of the faithful at the Department of Justice this morning, and lawyers and investigators here in the crowd. They were listening to him give a report on what the administration has been doing to address corporate responsibility.

President Bush here saying that broad and dramatic progress is being made. He says that the task force that he has assigned to prosecute corporate crimes has actually been quite busy over the last two-and-a-half months, citing some hundreds of cases of fraud have been filed against corporations and corporate figures as well.

He also mentioned 45 defendants have been convicted or are pleading guilty to such charges, 156 fraud actions have been filed by the SEC, 107 unfit offers -- officers -- rather -- have been thrown out of their offices or off of board rooms across the country.

And he also mentioned funds that have been recovered from of these figures as well.

President Bush also citing there as well that 50 new personnel being imported to the SEC that can help continue it to raise the figures of these prosecutions, of these corporate crimes.

Of, we'll keep our eyes on that story as it develops.


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