Sen. Tim Wirth and Norm Coleman on Wolf Blitzer


BLITZER: All right. Let’s move on and talk about the oil-for- food program that existed until Saddam Hussein’s demise almost two years ago. Senator Coleman, your subcommittee’s been holding hearings.

What have you learned that’s new? Give us one little nugget that you came away with from your latest investigation this week.COLEMAN: Well, that Benon Sevan actually received vouchers from information that was recorded during the times Saddam Hussein was in power, not just that was done afterwards. I would remind my friend, Tim Wirth, that on December 3rd we were on “News Hour.” He noted that people really — a lot of people don’t believe that this happened, really doubt that this happened with Sevan.

Well, the fact is it did happen. Volcker demonstrated what he called conflict of interest. But it really goes beyond that.

It goes to corruption, corruption by the guy who was in charge of the program. And that really has to be dealt with.

BLITZER: Why do you believe, Senator Coleman, that Paul Volcker, the former Federal Reserve chairman who has been brought in my Kofi Annan to investigate the whole oil-for-food program, stopped short of making any direct accusation against Benon Sevan, who was in charge, the U.N. official in charge of this program, saying he was corrupt? Only simply saying there was an appearance of a conflict of interest?

COLEMAN: Well, he labeled it that, but then if you read the evidence he presented, he presented evidence that Sevan had large deposits into a bank account which he attributed to an aunt in Cyprus. They went back then, investigated that, and found out that that aunt lived off a pension, there was no way that she was capable of putting $50,000, $40,000, $35,000 into bank accounts for Sevan.

I think what Paul Volcker is doing — and I applaud it, by the way — is that was an interim report. More will follow.

In addition, we were doing our stuff. So we took what Volcker had, moved to the next step, and said, hey, it’s not just an inference, not just conflict of interest of him advocating on behalf of a Panamanian company, but in fact he directly got vouchers. So I think Volcker is going to continue to move forward on this issue and others.

BLITZER: All right. One of the complaints that we’ve heard from Senator Coleman and others, Senator Wirth, is that the United Nations is not really cooperating with the U.S. Congress in this investigation. Should the U.N. auditors and others at the U.N. be doing more to help Senator Coleman and other members of Congress who are investigating, get information?

WIRTH: Well, the U.N. has made all of the audits available. That issue got sorted out. And they’re now available through the U.S. mission at the U.N.

And if anybody in the Congress has a problem getting those — getting those documents, they’re available through the mission and they should talk to the mission about that. That’s the way the process has been set up.

Second, the U.N. made very clear that the chief inspector in the Iraq situation would be available to Senator Coleman’s committee. And he’s in Iraq now. But Mark Malik Brown, the chief of staff, the secretary-general was here last week in Washington, and I believe met with Senator Coleman, met with others of the committees that are investigating, offering to have the chief inspector come.

There are some real issues about whether officials who report to the general assembly should be reporting to political bodies in other countries. The U.N…

BLITZER: You mean bureaucrats.

WIRTH: No, not bureaucrats. Reporting to the secretariat is one thing. Ones that appoint to the general assembly, which is the overall political body of the U.N., generally do not testify. And the history is that they have not testified.

What the secretary-general’s tried to do is to make available the key officials who report to him, the key officials in the secretariat, and who work very closely with Senator Coleman and others…

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to — hold on, Senator Coleman. Hold on, Senator Coleman. We’re going to pick that up. We’ve got to take a quick break.

Don’t go away. We have much more coming up on this issue, other issues. Senator Coleman, Tim Wirth, they’ll be here.

We’ll take a quick break. More of our conversation right after this.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We’re talking about the U.N. oil-for- food program involving Iraq with our two guests, Senator Norm Coleman, who’s the chairman of the Senate subcommittee investigating the U.N. program, Tim Wirth is president of the United Nations Foundation, former U.S. congressman and senator. Senator Coleman, just before the break Senator Wirth suggested that whatever you guys need in terms of cooperation from the United Nations is available, as long as you do it through proper channels like the U.S. mission to the U.N. Are you getting all the information you need?

COLEMAN: No, Tim, let me be very, very clear, we are not getting the cooperation we need from the United Nations, and there’s no question about that.

Just to back you up on those audit reports, those audit reports were released because the U.N. mission passed a resolution, the Banking Committee, the Security Council, that required member states to have access to these documents. So we got that as a result of something our mission forward pushed, not something the U.N. automatically did. We wouldn’t (ph) get those later.

But more important, we’ve asked Benon Sevan to come before our committee. The U.N. should waive his immunity. In the Volcker Report alone, there’s this clear probable cause to believe he’s committed criminal activity. Waive his immunity.

We’ve asked for Delip Nare (ph), who’s head of the auditing function of the United Nations to come testify. And, Wolf, we’ve got 64 instances of U.N. folks testifying before congressional committees. We would waive the “under oath” requirement. That’s been done in the past. That has not been (INAUDIBLE) complied with.

I’ve had good conversation, good conversation with Malacrown (ph), good conversation with Paul Volcker, but in the end we have not had folks reduced to come before our committee to testify. And that is very disconcerting to me.

BLITZER: Senator Wirth.

WIRTH: Well, I won’t get into the who struck John situation. I think the U.N.’s been very forthcoming. Both the U.N., I think, and Senator Coleman’s committees, and five other committees of the Congress, want to get to the bottom of this, and I think they’re working on it.

And you know, let’s hope that one of the things that comes out of this is not only to help us strengthen the U.N., but to look at the overall process.

You asked earlier, you know, what had come out of these hearings. There were a lot of other things very interesting of major scale that came out of the hearings.

BLITZER: Like what?

WIRTH: For example, the extent of the smuggling, which the U.S. effectively approved. There was massive amount of smuggling of oil that came out of Iraq, went to Jordan, went to Turkey, and presumably we had sanctioned any kind of trade coming out of Iraq, but the U.S. looked the other way. Senator Levin made a very clear and compelling statement, and set of facts about what this was.

BLITZER: What about that charge? It’s not the first time, Senator Coleman, that charge has come up. As far as letting Saddam Hussein make profits, it was the United States that shut its eyes effectively to the exports of Iraqi oil through Jordan, through Turkey, both allies, friendly countries of the United States, and that the U.S. itself during the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, effectively shut its eyes to that.

COLEMAN: No, it didn’t shut its eyes. Actually, Wolf, with open eyes, both the Clinton and the Bush administration allowed Iraqi oil sales to both Turkey and Jordan. They laid that out. Congress understood that. But is that supposed to be some sort of excuse? Is that supposed to be somehow that justifies the billions of dollars that Saddam was able to put in his pocket to fund his military weaponry, to bribe folks connected to member states? I mean, I don’t understand what the point of that is.

BLITZER: Let’s let Senator Wirth explain it.

WIRTH: The point of all this is to keep this in perspective. The statements are made, and I think there — much grandiose about Oil-for-Food being this enormous scandal. Well, you know, it was a problem for the U.N. And maybe at stake was about something in the neighbor of $1.5 billion, not chump change, but $1.5 billion.

The smuggling issue was one of somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 billion. You know, eight times greater than involved in the oil for food. Now why does that occur? That was the item that really enriched Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: All right, what about that, Senator Coleman?

COLEMAN: Actually we could argue about $13.7 billion or — but, Wolf, is even a billion? What are we talking about here? Volcker released a report that showed about $690 million worth of fraud and mismanagement in the Oil-for-Food program. If folks don’t have the willingness to look at that regardless of what else is going on in the world, the U.N. is going to be in serious trouble.

WIRTH: That is also disingenuous to say it’s not being looked at. That’s why the secretary-general appointed Volcker, said we’re going to get to the bottom of this, and I think with the help of Senator Coleman and committees, we will get to the bottom of it.

But let’s look at the overall context, any time you’re operating in the Middle East, as we’ve just seen in Syria and so on, any time you’re operating in the Middle East it’s a very troubling complex, very corrupt environment, and there are a whole lot of elements to this, and we have to understand all the pieces of it.

BLITZER: We’ve got to leave it, unfortunately, right there, but an excellent discussion that we will continue down the road. Want to thank both Senator Coleman, Senator Wirth. Appreciate it very much.