DHS looking into Bush library corruption charges

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor  |  July 14, 2008 at 8:28 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 14 (UPI) -- Homeland Security officials are looking into allegations that a member of the department's advisory council offered to arrange meetings with senior administration officials in exchange for a large donation to the Bush presidential library.

Stephen Payne, a major GOP fundraiser and international affairs lobbyist, also touted his success in getting an Uzbek opposition leader removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list and issued a U.S. visa.

"This is a horribly unfortunate story," said Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner. "We are looking into the facts." She declined to comment further.

Payne was appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Council's subcommittee on "secure borders and open doors" by Secretary Michael Chertoff in August last year.

Last week, he was videotaped by the London Sunday Times offering to arrange meetings for an exiled former president of Kyrgyzstan, including with Vice President Richard Cheney, national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"The exact budget I will come up with," Payne said, "but it will be somewhere between $600,000 and $750,000, with about a third of it going directly to the Bush library."

Payne, who believed he was meeting with a representative of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, ousted in a people power-type revolution three years ago, called the money "not a huge amount but enough to show that they're serious."

In fact, he had been set up by the intermediary, Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, known as Eric Dos, a Kazakh politician with whom he had worked before, and was secretly taped by an undercover Sunday Times reporter.

Monday afternoon, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to Payne, saying that he would investigate the allegations.

"If true, this report raises serious concerns about the ways in which foreign interests might be secretly influencing our government through large donations to the library," wrote Waxman.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters "There's categorically no link between any official business and the Bush library," stressing that Payne "was never an employee of the White House."

In a statement, Payne, who has served as a volunteer advance travel planner for White House trips abroad and accompanied Cheney to the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, called the report a "worst-case example of 'gotcha' journalism."

"The (Sunday) Times attempted to entrap me," he said, denying there was any quid pro quo for the donation.

Payne released a series of e-mail exchanges that followed the meeting, which, he said, "in contrast to the surreptitiously taped conversation … reflect the basis of the more formal discussion and reflect the inquiries made by Mr. Dos to establish a quid pro quo and my consistent responses that there could be no quid pro quo."

"Anyone that tells you, 'I can deliver a U.S. government action in exchange for specific funds' is someone you will soon visit in prison," he told Dos in one of the e-mails. "That would be bribery in this country."

"The Sunday Times of London has done an injustice in undertaking a false and malicious expedition to discredit my company and me," Payne concluded in his statement.

In promotional materials marked "confidential" that he later said were in draft form, Payne touted his work with an Uzbek opposition leader in a section titled "From alleged terrorist to U.S. ally -- The transformation of Muhammad Salih."

Salih, an author and opposition leader who stood unsuccessfully against Uzbek strongman Islom Karimov in the country's first presidential election in 1990, and afterwards was first jailed, then placed under house arrest, has lived in exile since 1992.

In 1999, he was tried and convicted in absentia by an Uzbek court of involvement in a series of terrorist bombings in the capital, Tashkent. Although some international observers questioned the trial's fairness, Salih was placed on the U.S. terrorism watch list and an Interpol warrant was issued for his arrest.

According to Payne's promotional materials, his company, Houston-based Worldwide Strategic Partners Inc., "worked with the White House and the Departments of State and Justice to facilitate the removal ... from the terrorist watch list and the waving of the Interpol warrant" for Salih, and helped secure him a visa to visit the United States.

According to the non-profit Texans for Public Justice, Payne was a Bush-Cheney campaign "Pioneer'' -- supporters who helped raise at least $100,000 -- during the 2000 election, and a "Ranger" -- bringing in $200,000 or more -- during the 2004 campaign.

Democrats leaped on the report as an example of the kind of sleazy practices that led to the resignation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Matt Angle, of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political research and analysis group, called Payne "a junior league Jack Abramoff," a reference to the disgraced GOP lobbyist, jailed for corruption.

"He has built up influence as a major fundraiser for the president," said Angle of Payne. "It certainly appears as if he is peddling it."

"You count on the integrity of public officials," Angle told UPI. "If they are willing to use themselves as props to enrich a lobbyist, as Tom DeLay let himself be used by Abramoff, and as it appears Cheney was willing to be used by Payne … that (integrity) is in question."

"It really looks like the administration is selling out to the highest bidder," added Scott Amey, general counsel of the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight. "This case presents the disgusting side of government that we hope only appears in Hollywood. We need an audit of domestic and foreign policies to make sure they are not based on a large campaign or library contributions."

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