Espy called ethics rules 'junk'
By Ted Barrett/CNN
WASHINGTON (October 6) -- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner testified Tuesday that former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy told her that ethics rules for Clinton cabinet members were "a bunch of junk" and said, "I'm going to do like I did in Congress."
Browner testified at the corruption trial of Espy who is charged with accepting gifts and other gratuities from companies regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Browner then surprised the court when she said that during the same conversation, which included fellow cabinet members Ron Brown, the late Secretary of the Commerce Department and Bruce Babbitt of Interior, it was revealed that Espy and Brown, while being vetted for their cabinet posts, were tested for drug use while Browner and Babbitt were not.
"It was kind of odd that the two African Americans were tested and the two white people were not," Browner said.
Donald Smaltz, the independent counselor prosecuting Espy, was caught off guard by the volunteered testimony, unrelated to the trial. Curious, he asked Browner if she had complained to the president about their observation.
She had not, she said.
Browner testified the April 1993 conversation took place at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on a government plane as they returned from a forest policy conference in Portland, Oregon. She said the four cabinet members were chatting socially around a table, drinking beer and wine.
The conversation quickly turned to the strict ethics rules cabinet officials were subject to in the Clinton Administration. It was a common source of complaints, she said, because the guidelines went far beyond what the law or any previous administration had imposed.
Browner said the guidelines, which include rules restricting where a cabinet member could be employed for the first year after serving in office, were of particular concern to "young lawyers who wanted to practice afterwards."
Espy, 44, a former Mississippi congressman, is a lawyer.
Browner said Espy turned to her and said, "It's a bunch of junk. I'm going to do like I did in Congress."
Ethics rules for members of Congress are not considered as strict as administration rules.
But Browner, a witness for the prosecution, defended her former colleague.
"I took note of it, but it was a social setting. It's not fair to say it was a substantive comment on someone's views of ethics," she testified.
Browner told the court the ethics discussion turned to the complicated vetting procedure the four officials had been through months earlier.
"Ron Brown complained that he had to submit a second urine sample because something was wrong with the first," she said.
Browner and Babbitt were surprised to learn Brown and Espy were drug tested and they were not. She said the four of them discussed the oddity that the black officials were tested and the white officials were not.
Tuesday, October 6, 1998
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