Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Bush crony denies cashing in on White House ties

STRAIGHT SHOOTER Critics say Joe Allbaugh is part of a small coterie of businessmen who are seeking to profit from the war in Iraq. He says he's just trying to help out


Joe M. Allbaugh, a close friend of US President George Bush's and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency until last March, is here to tell you that his new company, which advises clients on how to get business in Iraq, is not trading on his White House connections. The Iraqis need assistance, Allbaugh said, and he can help.

"Because my friend is president of the United States, I'm supposed to check out of life?" Allbaugh said with some exasperation in a telephone interview on Friday from his office near Capitol Hill.

Allbaugh knows that people -- Democrats, in particular -- say he is part of a small coterie of businessmen linked to the Bush family who are seeking to profit from the war in Iraq.

"This is a political town, and obviously there are people who want to make a big deal out of what I do," Allbaugh said. "I have nothing to hide. I'm straightforward. I deal my cards on top of the table."

So here is his hand: Allbaugh, already the chief executive officer of his own consulting firm, the Allbaugh Co., is also the chairman of New Bridge Strategies, a just-formed, Houston-based company that sees a prosperous new world rising from the rubble of Baghdad. Other New Bridge directors include Edward Rogers Junior and Lanny Griffith, lobbyists who worked in the Bush I White House.

As the company's Web site, www.newbridgestrategies.com, says, "The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in the United States and on the ground in Iraq."

Allbaugh, who was Bush's campaign manager in 2000, said he was not looking for business in Iraq himself, but was offering his services to help other companies get the work -- like the contracts to build Iraq's cellular telephone system, to cite just one example. Already, the US government has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts to US businesses, some without competitive bidding, including to Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, which was Vice President Dick Cheney's company from 1995 to 2000.

The Senate has since demanded that all future contracts in Iraq be awarded by competitive bidding, and administration officials, including L. Paul Bremer, the top US official in Baghdad, have promised that they will. Allbaugh said that was just fine.

"We have no problem with that, because our clients are quality companies," he said, although he declined to name them.

As part of his package for clients, Allbaugh said, he also offers security in the form of yet another new company, Diligence Iraq, that works hand-in-hand with New Bridge. New Bridge is a minority partner in Diligence Iraq, which is just opening up in Baghdad. Mike Baker, the head of Diligence Iraq, serves as an advisory board member of New Bridge.

In other words, if your company wants to send over three people from New York to investigate business opportunities in Baghdad, Baker will secure the way in: a three-car convoy of armed SUVs driving 145kph, to avoid bandits, in an eight-hour-plus streak across the desert from the border of Jordan or Kuwait.

"We're playing the odds," said Baker, who also has a good business in what he calls "delivering payroll around the country" -- that is, driving stacks of US dollars to places where Iraqis get paid by the US authorities. "It's fairly low tech," Baker said.

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