For the first time, Commerce Dept. insiders are sweating over Republicans' delving into Secretary Ronald H. Brown's tangled personal finances. They fear a protracted investigation into his past business dealings will embarrass President Clinton and cloud Brown's future. "We're in trouble," frets one aide.
On Jan. 24, 14 GOP senators asked the Justice Dept. to look into whether Brown filed inaccurate financial statements or avoided taxes in 1993. The request came after a House committee linked Brown financially to Corridor Broadcasting Corp., a Washington company that defaulted on $47 million in debt to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Resolution Trust Corp. from '91 through '93. The FDIC said on Jan. 25 that its inspector general will investigate the matter. Brown's attorney, Reid Weingarten, calls the charges "hypertechnical."
The Commerce chief's supporters lament that Brown, cleared of an earlier charge of taking a $700,000 bribe from a Vietnamese businessman, brought the new GOP inquiry on himself by stubbornly refusing for two years to disclose even innocent details about his complicated business affairs. Aides say his problems have been compounded by Commerce ethics officer Barbara S. Fredericks, who angered Republicans in the last Congress with her staunch defense of Brown's right to shield most of his dealings from scrutiny. Even Democrats have been aghast at Brown's lack of disclosure. "It's payback time," sighs a top Democratic congressional aide.