Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown on Wednesday rejected allegations that he accepted a $700,000 bribe to ease U.S. trade restrictions against Vietnam, terming the charges “ridiculous and preposterous.”
Brown, who took a leading role at a White House ceremony Wednesday on export promotion, was quoted by one of his spokesmen last month as saying that he had never met Nguyen Van Hao, the Vietnamese businessman who allegedly made the influence-peddling offer.
But the spokesman said Tuesday that Brown actually met three times with Hao before and after he was nominated to his Cabinet post. He attributed the earlier statement to a misunderstanding. Brown’s attorney, Reid Weingarten, said Brown turned down Hao’s request to help relax the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Vietnam.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) raised the subject with Brown at a hearing of a House subcommittee on the Administration’s trade promotion policies.
“You are under a cloud of suspicion,” he said. “Until this issue is put to rest, I’m afraid your effectiveness is going to be questionable.”
Rohrabacher asked Brown why he had not corrected his press spokesman’s assertion that he had never met with Hao.
“There’s an investigation under way,” Brown said, referring to an inquiry by a federal grand jury in Miami. “The statement that I made was a total denial of a ridiculous and preposterous allegation. As for the individual who made the allegation, I never met him, don’t know him. I don’t have anything more to say on the matter.”
When Rohrabacher pressed for answers, Brown cut him off, saying: “I indicated to you with all respect that I think it’s inappropriate to discuss this. . . . The inquiry is under way and I believe it will be completed in short order. When it is completed, I’m confident I will be totally exonerated from these ridiculous and absurd charges.”