'Monitorships' Smack of Favoritism for Bush Cronies

Lucrative contracts called "monitorships," like the one a U.S. attorney in New Jersey awarded to John Ashcroft, give the appearance of favoritism for administration cronies, NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host

And I'm Melissa Block.

There are 293 days left until Election Day. Who's counting? And senior news analyst Daniel Schorr is already thinking about one of the reforms he hopes the next president will make.

DANIEL SCHORR: When the candidates on the campaign trail talk of the need for change in Washington, they're talking about many kinds of abuses. There is the Jack Abramoff-type lobbying scandal, planting cohorts in the administration who will then do the bidding of your clients. There is the earmark scandal, sneaking items into appropriations bills that will serve some specific interest at home. There is the revolving door scandal, leaving Congress to make more money lobbying Congress for some well paying interests. And there is a scandal of a firing of U.S. attorneys to bring in administration supporters.

And now, there is a scandal I've never even heard of before, the monitoring scandal involving, of all people, former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Yeah, the one who made himself a hero by refusing on his hospital bed to sign an extension of the Surveillance Law.

The monitoring scandal has to do with companies that escape prosecution by promising to mend their ways. They agreed to have monitors whom they will pay to make sure that they stay on the straight and narrow. And so, as revealed by The Washington Post, when the Zimmer Company of Indiana, which makes medical equipment, was threatened with prosecution for paying kickbacks to doctors to promote its products, it promised to reform and it agreed to a monitorship.

The monitor is selected by the federal prosecutor, in this case, U.S. attorney Christopher Christie, a New Jersey Republican, possible candidate for governor. He selected the consulting firm headed by John Ashcroft. That is where $25 million in company money that a prosecutor lavished on the former attorney general and that amounted to a no bid contract.

So, the monitorship practice can allow a company to flout the law and escape punishment. All they have to do is strike a deal with the U.S. attorney that puts an administration crony into the boardroom. And since the administration has seen to it that most U.S. attorneys are friendly to business, the companies don't have to worry too much. One exhibit in a list of what needs changing when the next president inaugurates the era of change.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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