Wolfie’s cover-up

Earlier, he said that the Bank’s ethics committee was “aware” of the details of his paramour’s cushy job transfer. Now he amends that: the “awareness” came from an anonymous letter from a staffer. Exit, stage right.

I haven’t blogged much about the Wolfowitz affair because I didn’t know what to think. There were lots of reasons to dislike Wolfie as the head of the World Bank: his entire public record to start with, leading up to the botched occupation of Iraq; his installation of GOP loyalists in key Bank jobs; and his adherence to Bushoid bigotry about contraception and obscurantism about climate change.

But it’s hard, from a distance, to judge whether the charge about the cushy job for his paramour actually holds water, and easy to imagine that lots of people at the Bank and in the media feel about Wolfowitz generally the way I do, and might be unduly eager to see him as breaking the rules, especially since he’s been stepping on toes by making a fuss about the corruption that plagues many of the governments to which the Bank lends. (See Bob Klitgaard’s Tropical Gangsters for an account of how that corruption looks on the ground, and how the international development community steadfastly looks the other way.)

If, in fact, Ms. Riza was due for a big promotion at the Bank, and couldn’t have it because her POSSLQ had taken over, then it would not have been utterly unreasonable for the Bank to make sure she didn’t lose on the deal. That’s life in a world of two-career families (and near-families). It would have been in better taste for Wolfowitz not to take the job in the first place, but indelicacy isn’t the same thing as corruption.

So when my friend Ruth Wedgwood endorsed Wolfowitz’s claim that everything he had done for Ms. Riza had been done at the direction, of the Bank’s ethics committee and with the approval of the board, and asserted that he was being railroaded for his political views, I didn’t have any problem believing it.

But a story in the current Financial Times raises some serious questions. Wolfowitz had indeed asserted that the ethics committee was “aware” of the details of the State Department deal. I assumed, as we all were no doubt meant to assume, that the “awareness” was the result of full disclosure by Wolfowitz. Now, in the face of contrary testimony from the Bank’s former legal adviser and the former chair of the ethics committee, Wolfowitz says that the committee’s “awareness” came from receiving an anonymous letter from a disgruntled Bank staffer.

I don’t see how it’s possible to avoid the conclusion that Wolfowitz attempted to mislead the public about how the Riza case was managed. And I don’t see how it’s possible to avoid the conclusion that, having gotten caught, Wolfowitz must either resign or be fired.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com