Another Clouded Clinton Appointee

The export-hungry Clinton Administration has a controversial choice for top promoter of U.S. products abroad: Lauri Fitz-Pegado. Two years ago, as Washington mulled going to war in the Persian Gulf, Fitz-Pegado helped Hill & Knowlton's Kuwaiti clients whip up support for U.S. intervention with tales of Iraqi atrocities. As a managing director of international affairs for the public-relations firm, she prepped 15-year-old Nayira Al-Sabah to appear before the U.N. Security Council and Congress and testify that she saw Iraqi soldiers remove Kuwaiti babies from hospital respirators.

But in early 1992, it came to light that the girl, identified at the time only as Nayira, a recent escapee from occupied Kuwait, is the daughter of Saud Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwaiti Ambassador to the U.S. A Kuwaiti government study found that the baby-incubator testimony was based on a "single incident."

Fitz-Pegado told a 60 Minutes interviewer at the time that she hadn't meant to deceive and believed Nayira's story. Hill & Knowlton says the firm knew about Nayira's family ties, but claims Congress wanted it withheld. Fitz-Pegado isn't answering press queries these days. Named to head the Commerce Dept.'s U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service, Fitz-Pegado, 38, has an O.K. from the Senate Banking Committee, which apparently didn't know about the Kuwait flap. She still needs a nod from the Commerce Committee and the full Senate. A Commerce Dept. spokeswoman says judging her on that lone incident would be "unfair and unfortunate."

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