Monday, July 7, 2008

WSJ Spins Hunt Oil Deal, But Can't Fool Jason Leopold

The spin is almost invisible when the Wall Street Journal describes Henry Waxman's reaction to recent news pertaining to the Hunt Oil deal with Kurdistan:
House baron Henry Waxman [...] is upset with a separate contract that the Kurdistan Regional Government has signed with Texas's Hunt Oil. Mr. Waxman thinks the Bush Administration didn't do enough to stop the deal. Then again, this is old news, as the contract was signed last year. And while the Baghdad central government wasn't pleased the Kurds had moved on a contract without national approval, the deal hasn't impeded Iraq's broader progress.
Fortunately for the cause of truth and justice (not to mention personal sanity), Jason Leopold wasn't fooled; here he explains what Waxman is really upset about:
Ray Hunt, the Texas oil man who landed a controversial oil production deal with Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government, has enjoyed close political and business ties with Vice President Dick Cheney dating back a decade – and to the Bush family since the 1970s.

Despite those longstanding connections -– and Hunt’s work for George W. Bush as a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board [PFIAB] -– the Bush administration expressed surprise when Hunt Oil signed the agreement last September.

At that time, administration officials said Hunt Oil’s deal with the Kurds jeopardized delicate negotiations among competing Iraqi sects and regions for sharing oil revenues, talks seen as vital for achieving national reconciliation.

“I know nothing about the deal,” President Bush said. “To the extent that it does undermine the ability for the government to come up with an oil revenue sharing plan that unifies the country, obviously if it undermines it I’m concerned.”

However, on July 2, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released documents showing that senior administration officials were aware that Hunt was negotiating with the Kurdistan government and even offered him encouragement.

Hunt also personally alerted Bush’s PFIAB about his oil company’s confidential contacts with Kurdish representatives.

In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, committee chairman, complained that the administration’s comments last year were “misleading.”

“Documents obtained by the Committee indicate that contrary to the denials of Administration officials, advisors to the President and officials in the State and Commerce Departments knew about Hunt Oil’s interest in the Kurdish region months before the contract was executed,” Waxman wrote.

Waxman said the Hunt-Kurdish case also raised questions about the veracity of similar administration denials about its role in arranging more recent contracts between Iraq and major U.S. and multinational oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron.

Plus, there’s the longstanding suspicion that oil was a principal, though unstated, motive behind the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, which sits on the world’s second-largest oil reserves.

Administration officials -– and much of the mainstream U.S. media –- have ridiculed the oil motive charge as a conspiracy theory.
It's a conspiracy, that's for sure. But it's no theory. And the connections with Hunt go way, way, back.
Many of the oil companies now stepping forward to benefit from Iraqi oil were instrumental in both supporting Bush’s political career and giving advice to Cheney’s secretive energy task force in 2001.

For instance, Ray Hunt’s personal relationship with the Bush family dates back to the 1970s as Hunt, the chief of Dallas-based Hunt Oil, helped build the Texas Republican Party as it served as a power base for the Bushes rise to national prominence.

The Hunt family donated more than $500,000 to Republican campaigns in Texas, while Hunt Oil employees and their spouses gave more than $1 million to Republican causes since 1995, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ray Hunt also had strong ties to Dick Cheney during his years at the helm of Halliburton, the Houston-based oil-services giant. In 1998, Cheney tapped Hunt to serve on Halliburton’s board of directors, where Hunt became a compensation committee member setting Cheney’s salary and stock options.

In 1999, when Texas Gov. George W. Bush was running for the Republican presidential nomination, Bush turned to Hunt to help fund his presidential campaign efforts in Iowa, according to Robert Bryce’s book, Cronies: Oil, The Bushes, And The Rise Of Texas, America's Superstate.

“By the summer of 1999, Bush had already raised $37 million but he wanted to conserve his campaign cash so he turned to a Texas crony, Ray Hunt, to help fund the Iowa effort,” Bryce wrote. “In July of 1999, Hunt was among a handful of Bush supporters who each donated $10,000 to the Iowa Republican party.”

In May 2000, Bush appointed Hunt finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Hunt also donated $5,000 to the Florida recount battle and spent $100,000 on Bush’s inaugural party.
Leopold fills in some more background on Hunt Oil and its Bush connections, before describing the newly released evidence in this case (which the WSJ calls old news):
The new evidence suggests that Hunt Oil at least benefited from the administration’s wink and nod in striking the Kurdish oil deal.

In a July 12, 2007, letter to PFIAB, Hunt disclosed that Hunt Oil was “approached a month or so ago by representatives of a private group in Kurdistan as to the possibility of our becoming interested in that region.”

Hunt described a visit of a Hunt Oil survey team and stated, “we were encouraged by what we saw. We have a larger team going back to Kurdistan this week.”

In a second letter to PFIAB, dated Aug. 30, 2007, Hunt revealed that he would travel to Kurdistan in early September for meetings with the Kurdistan regional government, including its president, prime minister and oil minister.

Those meetings led to the oil agreement between Hunt Oil and the Kurdish leaders -- and now have raised questions about Bush’s denial that he had any advanced knowledge about the deal.

“State Department officials similarly disavowed involvement in the contract,” Waxman said in the letter to Rice. “Department officials claimed that to the extent they were aware of any negotiations, they actively warned Hunt Oil not to enter into a contract because it was contrary to U.S. national security interests.

“Documents obtained by the Committee indicate that contrary to the denials of Administration officials, advisors to the President and officials in the State and Commerce Departments knew about Hunt Oil’s interest in the Kurdish region months before the contract was executed.”
See? Wall Street Journal readers may believe that Henry Waxman is upset because he "thinks the Bush Administration didn't do enough to stop the deal".

But now you know better.