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Family of Clinton utilized long White House tradition

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

Should we really be surprised that Clinton kin were trying to get pardons for themselves and others? It would seem to be one of the few areas in which presidential relatives haven't traded on their White House connections.

Look at Billy Carter, whose beer would have been an even bigger bust if his brother hadn't been commander-in-chief. Or Patti Davis, who wrote a best-seller that trashed her parents, Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Or Bobby Kennedy, who got one of the nation's most important jobs, attorney general, because his brother was in the Oval Office.

But presidential relatives aren't always so obvious in their pursuit of wealth or power. Maybe it's the lure of the exotic. Or maybe they know reporters will have a harder time sniffing out questionable deals overseas. Whatever the reason, a fair number of presidential kin have turned their sights to other countries, often with eyebrow-raising results.

Take Billy Carter. The Libyans did, paying him to lobby at a time they were being condemned by the United States for supporting terrorism. Brother Jimmy defended his colorful sibling through various federal investigations, explaining that "I love him and he loves me."

The Reagan children stayed closer to home, pursuing literary, music and TV careers that owed much to their presidential connections. Three of George Bush's sons, though, looked to the oil-rich Middle East after their father became a regional hero for his role in liberating Kuwait from its Iraqi invaders.

In a 1993 New Yorker magazine article, Seymour M. Hersh described how Neil and Marvin Bush accompanied the former president to Kuwait just three months after he left office.

Neil Bush was involved with two Houston companies that hoped to do business in Kuwait, the story said. He tried to persuade the country's Ministry of Electricity and Water to let him share in the huge management fees that would be paid to run Kuwait's rebuilt power plants.

Meanwhile, Marvin Bush was seeking contracts related to an electronic security fence that was part of an early warning defense system; he, too, was trying to do business with the Ministry of Electricity and Water.

The Bushes broke no laws, the story noted, and the former president told an associate he didn't want any of his family "getting the spoils of war."

"But they may have damaged established notions of propriety and common sense," Hersh wrote.

"It has long been a commonplace of American life that private gains follow from connections made during years of public service. However, there is a sense, too, that certain things -- certain types of schemes and deals -- are simply beyond the bounds of decency. In seeking contracts to rebuild Kuwait so soon after American men and women risked their lives there . . . haven't the two Bush sons and the rest transgressed those bounds?"

Marvin and Neil Bush declined to comment except to say they had no business dealings in Kuwait. However, another Arab nation had proved more welcoming to a company connected to their brother, George W.

In 1990, Harken Energy -- in which Bush owned 345,000 shares -- finalized a deal for its first international drilling operation, in the waters off Bahrain.

"Oil industry analysts were stunned that bottom-feeding Harken . . . could hook such a meaty international contract over industry giant Amoco, which had been openly negotiating with Bahrain's oil minister; not only hadn't Harken drilled overseas, it had never drilled in water," Bill Minutaglio wrote in First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty.

"Speculation immediately surged that it was because Bahrain wanted to do business with the son of the U.S. president. As the allegations unfolded, George W. became furious; he told people that he had predicted this would happen; that there would be "bad political fallout. . . . I had absolutely nothing to do with the Bahrain deal.' "

In June 1990, George W. made a handsome profit when he sold most of his Harken stock. Six weeks later, the share prices nose-dived after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The remaining Bush brother -- Jeb -- also had foreign interests.

In 1988, the year his father became president, Jeb Bush formed a partnership with a Florida fundraiser to market irrigation and flood control pumps overseas. Bush went to Nigeria, where he pledged his dad would increase aid to developing countries, according to local press reports. Nigeria received $74-million in loans from the Export-Import Bank of the United States to buy the pumps, earning Florida's future governor a healthy commission.

After Bill Clinton took office, his brothers-in-law continued in the tradition of problematic presidential relatives. Tony Rodham, Hillary Clinton's younger brother, tried to get a contract to clean China's polluted air. He and Hugh Rodham also caused a flap with an unsuccessful effort to import hazelnuts from Ukraine, where they were hosted by the shady rival of the country's president, a U.S. ally.

Now that he's in the White House, George W. Bush suggests Americans should forget about the scandals of the last administration and move along to other things. Maybe he is motivated by a genuine sense of forgiveness. Or maybe it's because he, like other recent presidents, knows the truth of the adage:

You can choose your friends; it's your relatives you're stuck with.

- Susan Martin can be contacted at

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