Aid Official Leaves Bush Administration

Randall Tobias, in charge of the Bush administration's foreign aid programs, stepped down this week after allegations were published that he retained the services of an escort service.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The man around the Bush administration's aid program for the developing world has had to resign after his name was linked to an alleged prostitution ring. Randall Tobias ran the U.S. Agency for International Development and was a top adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The State Department has made it a priority to crackdown on human trafficking and prostitution. So it is considered an embarrassing moment to have reports emerge that Mr. Tobias was using a high-end call girl service in Washington, D.C.

We're joined now by our diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Thanks for being with us, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what has the State Department said about this?

KELEMEN: Oh, it was one of those, you know, late Friday afternoon statements, took much of Washington by surprise. Secretary Rice's spokesman Sean McCormack said that Tobias informed Rice that he must step down as the director of foreign assistance and as the head of the USAID effective immediately. It said that he's returning to private life for personal reasons.

And when I called over to USAID, to the spokesman there, he said, ma'am, I'm going to let that statement stand as it is. It wasn't until much later in the evening that the ABC News Web site revealed a much juicier story behind this resignation.

SIMON: Mr. Tobias apparently talked to ABC. What did he say?

KELEMEN: That's right. He talked to them apparently on Thursday. ABC News had a few quotes up on their Web site. It said that he acknowledged calling the Pamela Martin & Associates escort service to have, and this is a quote, "to have gals come over to the condo to give him a massage."

Tobias also said that there had been no sex involved. And that recently he'd been using another service with, and this is also in quote, "to essential Americans to provide massages."

SIMON: This alleged prostitution service, of course, is being investigated, and we must point out that there are people who are essentially trading names, sometimes high-profile names in hopes of a better deal in court.

KELEMEN: Well, the woman who's charged with running this is Jeane Palfrey. People call her the D.C. Madam. She's facing federal charges, and she's been promising to make public her client list. She's apparently handed over a lot of phone records to ABC News.

SIMON: How important was Mr. Tobias in this administration? What had he done in office?

KELEMEN: He was a very trusted aide of Secretary Rice and of President Bush. He ran the Bush administration's high-profile Global AIDS Fund, and before, Rice tapped him for this new job, which is a dual-headed position really, running the AGENCY for International Development but also reporting directly to her to overhaul the U.S. Foreign Assistance.

She created this job just over a year ago and it was basically, because she said she wasn't able to say how much money do we spend in such and such country and is our money going for our foreign policy goals. So he was really the man to overhaul this whole system and to have her ear really on this issue.

SIMON: Yeah, a development like this would be embarrassing to any administration has been in the past but maybe this morning we should remind ourselves the way in which the administration's concerns about human trafficking and young women being coerced into a life of prostitution played a central role in some aid program.

KELEMEN: That's right. The Bush administration had even a national security presidential directive back in 2002. It talked about prostitution being inherently harmful in dehumanizing, saying that it fuels the trafficking of persons. And this administration has really taken a tough line on trafficking issues, and it rates countries around the world on how well they're combating trafficking in human persons.

And on HIV/AIDS, of course, the administration has been emphasizing abstinence and faithfulness as a way to combat the spread of AIDS.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen, thank you very much.

KELEMEN: You're welcome.

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