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George Shultz, wimp.

George Shultz, Wimp

Meet George Shultz, man of integrity. "I believe the real heroes are people who speak up to their president, make their views known, are willing to take great personal risk in confronting their president,' said Senator Warren Rudman, vice chairman of the Senate Iran-contra committee. "You are such a hero, Mr. Secretary.' Rep. Jack Brooks praised Shultz for "integrity and honesty that has been sorely lacking in our other witnesses.' Shultz agreed with the assessment, arguing that he was forcefully fighting to make his views known.

You might be confusing him with the George Shultz who, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, "wrote himself out of the Iran operation' after his position didn't prevail. Or the one the Tower Commission said "specifically requested to be informed only as necessary to perform his job.' Or the one who failed to say a word when his assistant secretary, Elliott Abrams, misled Congress about State Department solicitation of contra money from third countries.

Yes, Shultz is a bit of an enigma. He occasionally has taken strong, even courageous, stands. When he was secretary of the treasury under Nixon he tried to shield the IRS from White House pressure. But more often he has exhibited a somewhat warped sense of when to hold up and when to fold up.

For example, although Shultz did not resign over the arms-for-hostages policy, he threatened to quit over relatively minor issues: the administration's lie detector policy, the president's sending Robert McFarlane on a mission without Shultz's knowledge, and his being denied the use of a plane.

In fact, Shultz has a history of crying resignation at the oddest times. In the 1960s, when he was dean of the University of Chicago Business School, Shultz barred antiwar protesters from using loudspeakers during a rally. When the president of the university overruled him, Shultz did the only honorable thing--he threatened resignation, until officials begged him to stay.

If there remains any doubt that Shultz holds an inverted view of when to do the "honorable' thing, there is one more example from the past: the notorious "ITT affair' when Shultz served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon administration in 1971. Richard McLaren, the Justice Department's antitrust chief, was pressing antitrust cases against several conglomerates, most notably International Telephone and Telegraph. The company frenetically lobbied the Nixon administration to jettison McLaren. Although ITT convinced several influential Nixon aides, including John Ehrlichman, the domestic policy adviser, McLaren continued to forge ahead. His immediate superior, Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, caught in a tug-of-war between McLaren and Ehrlichman, was paralyzed by indecision.

The matter came to a head on April 19, 1971 when Ehrlichman learned that McLaren intended to appeal to the Supreme Court a recent federal district court ruling on one ITT suit. Ehrlichman telephoned Kleindienst with directions to drop the case. Kleindienst demurred, pleading that McLaren had already filed the appeal notice and it was too late to stop.

Ehrlichman stormed directly to the Oval Office, where Nixon was meeting with George Shultz. Nixon telephoned Kleindienst; his message, as captured by his taping system, was not subtle:

Nixon: I want something clearly understood, and, if it is not understood, McLaren's ass is to be out within one hour. The IT-and-T thing-- stay the hell out of it. Is that clear? That's an order.

Kleindienst: Well, you mean the order is to--

Nixon: The order is to leave the goddamned thing alone. Now, I've said this, Dick, a number of times, and you fellows apparently don't get the message over there. I do not want McLaren to run around prosecuting people, raising hell about conglomerates, stirring things up at this point. Now, you keep him the hell out of that. Is that clear?

Kleindienst: Well, Mr. President--

Nixon: Or either he resigns. I'd rather have him out anyway. I don't like the son-of-a-bitch.

Kleindienst: That brief has to be filed tomorrow.

Nixon: That's right. Don't file the brief.

Kleindienst: Your order is not to file a brief?

Nixon: My order is to drop the goddamn thing. Is that clear?

Kleindienst: Yeah, I understand that.

Nixon's directive was overheard, of course, by Ehrlichman who had precipitated the call. The tapes also show George Shultz was in the room during the telephone conversation. In fact, after Nixon completed his order to Kleindienst, Shultz chimed in that he was preparing a speech refuting arguments that there had been an increase in monopolies. In an odd, speaking-for-the-record tone, Shultz mentioned that, of course, he "would be the last to say we should not continue to pursue the antitrust laws in the proper way.' But, in a comment he must have hoped wouldn't see the light of day, Shultz quickly added, "the conglomerates have taken a bum rap.'

Soon thereafter, McLaren reached a settlement with ITT and the campaign against conglomerate corporate mergers ended.

A year later columnist Jack Anderson published evidence--contained in the infamous "Dita Beard' memo--suggesting a connection between the ITT antitrust settlement and a substantial financial contribution made by ITT to the upcoming Republican national convention fund.

Anderson's disclosure came as the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering the nomination of Kleindienst as attorney general to succeed John Mitchell, who was leaving to manage Nixon's reelection campaign. Kleindienst told the committee that McLaren had arranged settlement of the ITT cases on his own, with no political pressure from anyone. Asked if Nixon had played any role in the cases, Kleindienst assured the committee the president had not. Mitchell echoed Kleindienst's statements, although he knew they were false.

Nixon's role in the ITT case was covered up until after the election. For this he was indebted to Kleindienst and Mitchell, who had lied to protect him, Ehrlichman, who had assisted the cover-up, and George Shultz, who had refrained from reporting it. When Kleindienst and Mitchell lied to the Judiciary Committee, Shultz didn't step forward to correct the record. And he certainly didn't resign over it.

In 1974, Watergate investigators exposed the ITT cover-up. The Watergate special prosecutor proposed charging Kleindienst with perjury for lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Nixon's role in the case; after pleabargaining, Kleindienst pleaded guilty to reduced charges. And Nixon's silent acquiescence to Kleindienst's false testimony was cited in one of the articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee. The committee summed up the case: "Kleindienst and former Attorney General John Mitchell gave false testimony regarding the president's involvement in the ITT antitrust cases. Clearly Kliendienst and Mitchell were protecting the president. The president followed Kleindienst's confirmation hearings closely, but took no steps to correct the false testimony and continued to endorse Kleindienst's appointment.'

Of those who lied or knew of the lies, only George Shultz's reputation emerged unscathed. Like Nixon, Shultz silently accepted false testimony without protest.

Shultz has always been a team player. Had he not been, he probably never would have been Nixon's secretary of the treasury. Sixteen years later, his conduct in the Iran-contra affair shows he still has a strange notion of just when to take a stand.
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Author:Goolrick, Robert
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Oct 1, 1987
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