Sunday, September 17, 2006

Smoking Gun May Implicate Christy Todd Whitman in Felonies

Jenna Orkin*

EPA Senior Policy Analyst Hugh Kaufman revealed today what he called a "smoking gun," documents showing that Administrator Christy Todd Whitman committed a felony when she reassured New Yorkers that their air was safe to breathe following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The internal documents, obtained by Congressman Jerrold Nadler whose district includes Ground Zero, consist of notes written in preparation for the EPA Inspector General's Report of August, 2003. That report showed that at least one EPA press release was edited by the White House Council on Environmental Quality to replace cautionary statements about asbestos with reassurances.

In the notes, EPA Spokesperson Tina Kreisher is asked whether there was a 'conscious effort' to reassure the public. Ms. Kreisher responded that there was such an effort and that it came both from the Administrator and the White House.

The newly unearthed notes are particularly damning, Kaufman says, because Whitman had a personal financial interest in getting Lower Manhattan up and running again. She owned millions of dollars' worth of bonds from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which in turn owned the WTC site. A letter from Whitman dated January 19, 2001 to Ann Wolgast, an EPA Ethics official, states that Whitman understood that certain of her family's financial interests, including the PA bonds, presented potential conflicts of interest. Thus when she took office on February 1, 2001, she recused herself from cases involving the PA, among other companies.

She therefore broke the law by getting involved in the World Trade Center case at all, Kaufman says. The case should have been handled by her Deputy, Linda Fisher, who had 25 years' experience.

On September 13, 2006, Congressman Nadler, along with Congressmen Weiner and Pascrell, wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez requesting that a Special Counsel be appointed to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought against former Administrator Whitman as well as against other government officials for possibly endangering the lives of thousands of people following the attacks.

"Christie Whitman repeatedly declared the air safe, and now thousands of people are sick, and some have died, from World Trade Center contamination," Nadler said. "To add insult to injury, she just went on 60 Minutes and tried to blame everybody else for her misdeeds. She must be held accountable."

Kaufman says that Whitman may also have been motivated by a second conflict of interest from which, however, she did not recuse herself: She owned $250,000 stock in Citigroup which in turn owned Travellers' Insurance, a major downtown insurance company. Her husband John had worked for Citigroup before running a spinoff, Sycamore, which managed Citigroup's Far East branch.

Kaufman was the Chief Investigator for the EPA Ombudsman's Office until Whitman shut that office down by folding it into the Inspector General's office. The move ended the transparency which had been the hallmark of Ombudsman investigations; the IG Office focussed on enforcement. However Nikki Tinsley, the IG in charge of the highly critical report on the World Trade Center, is also no longer in office.

The documents obtained contain enough evidence, Kaufman says, to warrant hiring a Special Prosecutor. Possible crimes include wrongful endangerment and manslaughter. "The heroes should have their day in court and all enemies, foreign and domestic, should be held accountable."

*One of twelve original plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against the EPA.