Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Connect the dots

Lou Dobbs. Thank God for Lou Dobbs.


Still ahead here, do you wonder why President Bush is insisting on pushing this port deal through? Well, we do, too, and we've taken a look into it. We'll have a special report -- a special report on what appears to be the Bush administration's special relationship with Dubai.

And Dubai's friends in high places on K Street. K Street lobbyists don't see anything wrong with helping push this $7 billion port deal through, even if it raises serious questions about national security.

DOBBS: President Bush's family and members of the Bush administration have long-standing business connections with the United Arab Emirates, and those connections are raising new concerns and questions tonight in some quarters about why the president is defying his very own party leadership and his party in defending the Dubai port deal.

Christine Romans reports.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The oil-rich United Arab Emirates is a major investor in The Carlyle Group, the private equity investment firm where President Bush's father once served as senior adviser and is a who's who of former high-level government officials. Just last year, Dubai International Capital, a government-backed buyout firm, invested in an $8 billion Carlyle fund.

Another family connection, the president's brother, Neil Bush, has reportedly received funding for his educational software company from the UAE investors. A call to his company was not returned.

Then there is the cabinet connection. Treasury Secretary John Snow was chairman of railroad company CSX. After he left the company for the White House, CSX sold its international port operations to Dubai Ports World for more than a billion dollars.

In Connecticut today, Snow told reporters he had no knowledge of that CSX sale. "I learned of this transaction probably the same way members of the Senate did, by reading about it in the newspapers."

Another administration connection, President Bush chose a Dubai Ports World executive to head the U.S. Maritime Administration. David Sanborn, the former director of Dubai Ports' European and Latin American operations, he was tapped just last month to lead the agency that oversees U.S. port operations.(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Now, some members of Congress, some of whom have already confirmed Sanborn, say they'd like to take a closer look at this nomination. But it's not just administration connections that Dubai has in this deal, Lou. It's now aggressively lining up representation on the Hill, bipartisan representation.

DOBBS: Lobbyists as representation, including Bob Dole. It's a remarkable effort. It's a -- it can be a tremulous feeling to stand between $7 billion and those who want to exchange that money irrespective of the consequences.

Thank you very much.

Christine Romans.

The United Arab Emirates not only has friends in high places in government, it also has high-powered lobbying connections. This oil- rich nation has been lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars on K Street, lobbying friends to push its point of view and its goals. One of those friends we found out today is none other than Senator Dole, former Senator Dole.

Lisa Sylvester has the story.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): To deflate criticism, Dubai Ports World has gone on a hiring spree. The bipartisan lobbying firm headed by former congressman Tom Downey and Ray McGrath was hired last week.

Senator Bob Dole and the lobbying firm he works for, Alston & Bird, also got a call. DPW, owned by a member of the United Arab Emirates, is pushing hard to keep Congress from blocking the deal.

TED BILKEY, COO, DUBAI PORTS WORLD: We're going to do anything possible to be sure that this deal goes through.

SYLVESTER: And they're tapping former lawmakers to do their bidding.

ROBERTA BASKIN, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: An ex-senator is a perfectly-placed lobbyist because an ex-senator, of course, is going to have more gravitas. An ex-senator can actually go onto the Senate floor.

SYLVESTER: But lobbying Congress is not new for the United Arab Emirates. The country has a team of U.S. lobbyists representing its interests.

Records filed with the Department of Justices Foreign Registration Office show the UAE paid at least four lobbying firms more than $720,000 last year. According to Senate disclosure records, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce spent at least $100,000 lobbying Capitol Hill in the first half of last year.

But the heavy lobbying efforts could backfire. It's now drawing attention to the influence of foreign governments on U.S. policy. Senator John Kerry has written Treasury Secretary Snow asking for full disclosure of the lobbying efforts on behalf of DPW. Congressman Curt Weldon echoed the need to know more about how this deal was sealed.

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We're talking about a corporation that is majority interest owned by another government. That's unlike the British or other companies that come in and invest in America. You're talking about a company that largely has a government control its operations.


SYLVESTER: One problem with foreign lobbying is the lack of transparency. Lobbyists representing foreign governments have to register with the Department of Justice, but the records are not easily obtained and the information included on those disclosure forms are usually very vague with government entities revealing as little as possible -- Lou.

DOBBS: Imagine that, revealing as little as possible in Washington, D.C. I'm shocked.

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