Democrats say Bush ties may have led to Iraq oil contract
Washington — Democratic lawmakers moved Monday toward investigating Hunt Oil’s oil exploration contract in Iraq, saying the company’s ties to President Bush raised questions about whether it had insider information that helped it reach the deal.
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, asked Hunt to turn over all Iraq-related communication with the U.S. government by Nov. 2.
The lawmakers also demanded that Ray Hunt, Hunt Oil’s chief executive, submit copies of information he may have received about Iraq as a member of Mr. Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
A Hunt spokeswoman said the company would cooperate with the request for “certain limited information.”
Spokeswoman Jeanne Phillips said the company’s judgment to explore for oil in the Kurdish region of Iraq was made without U.S. government advice.
“As we have stated before, our policy as a company is to act independently when determining where to explore for oil and gas around the world,” Ms. Phillips said in a prepared statement.
Mr. Hunt, 64, has not talked about his service on the intelligence board, which meets about six times a year. Its members, all presidential appointees, have security clearances, and much of their work is classified.
Former board members and intelligence experts said its members don’t often deal with specific intelligence.
Instead, they focus on broader concerns, such as whether one agency is cooperating with another or how a training program is working.
“Their job is to advise the president about the efficiency of the intelligence systems and where things need to be changed,” said Arthur S. Hulnick, a CIA veteran who is now an associate professor of international relations at Boston University.
“It is more management than substantive.”
That said, members must study intelligence-gathering efforts if they are expected to judge how the system works, Mr. Hulnick said.
“They clearly have to see it — things like estimates and daily reports, finished intelligence and analyzed intelligence,” he said.
Although Mr. Waxman’s committee has subpoena power, the lawmakers did not indicate whether they would compel Hunt officials to testify.
“We are in the information-gathering stage,” said Natalie Laber, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kucinich. “Before we hold hearings, we gather information.”
Mr. Waxman, D-Calif., has held a series of contentious, Iraq-related hearings in recent months, including one at which Democrats grilled Blackwater, the State Department’s private security contractor. Members also investigated corruption in the Iraqi government.
Last month, Mr. Bush said he was concerned about Hunt’s deal if it jeopardized Iraq’s ability to pass a national oil-sharing law. In their letter to Hunt, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Kucinich asserted that Hunt’s deal “may have undermined U.S. national policy of working toward the passage of an oil revenue sharing plan.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s oil minister has called Hunt’s deal illegal. Congressional Democrats have jumped into the fray, saying Hunt Oil signed its deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government because it has insider information about the future of Iraq’s national oil law.
“Ray Hunt is in a unique position to know what is happening in Iraq,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
Ms. Phillips said Hunt Oil’s decision to enter Iraq was based only on information that “was in the public domain.”
Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government have said that their deal complies with the national constitution and noted that the agreement calls for sharing revenue with other regions of Iraq. They said Mr. Hunt’s political relationships were irrelevant to the firm’s decision to explore in Iraq.
“The outcome of the deliberations for the national hydrocarbons law will not affect this agreement one way or another,” Qubad Talabani, Washington representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said recently.
Reprinted from The Dallas Morning News , Monday 15 October 2007.