Cheney Dodges a Bullet, Part 2

Wherein Chatterbox admits a minor error.

In yesterday’s column, I speculated mischievously that Vice President Cheney’s terrible week would have gotten even worse had Paul Volcker’s commission looking into the U.N. oil-for-food scandal printed the word “Halliburton” anywhere in its new report naming companies that bribed Saddam Hussein in order to do business in Iraq. Fortunately for Cheney, I wrote, it did not. That statement, I am now informed, while literally true, is not quite right.

The words I should have been entering into Adobe’s search engine were “Dresser Rand” and “Ingersoll-Dresser Pump.” These are the specific Halliburton subsidiaries—joint ventures, to be more precise, with Ingersoll-Rand—that signed contracts with Iraq for nearly $30 million while Cheney was chief executive at Halliburton. (Halliburton had a 51 percent stake in Dresser Rand and a 49 percent stake in Ingersoll-Dresser Pump.)

Cheney’s Iraqi blood money became an issue, naturally, during the 2000 campaign. At first Cheney denied outright that Halliburton had traded with Saddam, but when Sam Donaldson presented detailed evidence on ABC News’ This Week, Cheney conceded his error and claimed he’d been unaware of the deals:

Well, the fact of the matter is, Sam, that when I acquired Dresser Industries, we acquired our interest in those two joint ventures with Ingersoll-Rand, and we’ve sold both of those joint ventures to Ingersoll-Rand, so we had no involvement, don’t have any involvement to this day. Shortly after we took control of Dresser, we divested ourselves of those two companies.

Actually, the divestitures occurred more than a year after the Dresser acquisition. That’s when the roughly $30 million in contracts were signed. After the 2000 election, Ingersoll-Rand’s former chairman, James E. Perrella, told the Washington Post that all Halliburton (therefore, presumably, Cheney) had cared about at the time of the transactions was that they not violate the law, which they appeared not to have done.

Did the Halliburton joint ventures pay any bribes to Saddam?

The Volcker report provides no evidence that they did. Indeed, it mentions Dresser Rand not at all. But Ingersoll-Dresser does come up in a footnote on page 277. The main text describes one type of bribe called an “after-sales service fee,” which was so brazen that it was often written into the contract. The footnote cites as one source for the information one Bassam Deek, who said

the Iraqi Ministry of Oil requested that Flowserve (then known as Ingersoll-Dresser Pumps), for which Mr. Deek serves as an area manager, pay an after-sales-service fee in lieu of directly providing maintenance services.

What Deek maddeningly does not tell us—not in this footnote, anyway—is whether Ingersoll-Dresser, the joint venture in which Dick Cheney’s Halliburton had a 49 percent stake, actually paid the bribe. Lars Rosene, a spokesman for the company formerly known as Ingersoll-Dresser, says it didn’t: “We did not and would not approve paying a bribe.” Rosene disputes that a bribe was even discussed. According to Rosene, what Deek talked to the Iraqi Ministry of Oil about was not a bribe but rather a legitimate payment in lieu of maintenance or installation that Ingersoll-Dresser was no longer willing to provide, because the location in Iraq where the equipment would be situated was no longer safe for Ingersoll-Dresser’s workers. In any event, Rosene says, the payment was never made.