Monday, May 19, 2008

Political Punch

A Man, A Plan, An Indictment -- Panama

May 19, 2008 10:22 AM

With all the back-and-forth about possible conflicts of interest amidst the various lobbyists being purged from Sen. John McCain's Straight Talk Express the controversial client of a top campaign adviser to Sen. Barack Obama is getting renewed attention.

Greg Craig, a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, is a partner at the big-shot DC law firm Williams & Connolly. There Craig represents Pedro Miguel González.

González is president of the Panamanian Legislature and is also under indictment in the U.S. for murdering U.S. Army Sgt. Zak Hernández in 1992.

There's a big difference between a lobbyist, who is paid to interact with lawmakers such as Mr. Obama, and a lawyer, who works with the courts. But in this situation, González's indictment has complicated passage of the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement. So there is legislative relevance.

In January, the Dallas Morning News called for Craig to choose between defending González and working for Obama.

"The murder indictment, combined with Mr. González's leadership position, is hindering bilateral relations and causing a new U.S.-Panama free trade accord to stall in the Senate, where Mr. Obama holds office," the newspaper wrote. "Mr. Obama has made clear that the White House is no place for influence-peddlers and special interests...This is one instance where he needs to show presidential decisiveness by asking Mr. Craig to choose between the campaign and involvement in a legal case where hot-button bilateral issues – and a Senate vote – hang in the balance."

"The campaign knows of my involvement" in the González case, Craig said at a forum in March, "and I have removed myself from participation in discussions with the candidate or his advisers on relations between the United States and Panama."

For his part, Obama told a Wisconsin labor coalition that he would vote against the Panama Free Trade Agreement specifically because of González's indictment.

"Until that situation is resolved, we cannot support any trade agreement with Panama," Obama wrote.

Craig also represents Carlos Sánchez-Berzaín, the Bolivian Defense Minister who has been accused in a federal lawsuit of "crimes against humanity" because of his alleged role in the suppression of labor union riots in 2003 that resulted in the deaths of 67 people. He has represented Kofi Anan in the UN's oil-for-food scandal, Elian Gonzalez's father, John Hinckley, Jr., and former President Bill Clinton.

- jpt

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