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Ethics Questions on Parade : Astonishing Espy case shows the work left for this Administration

Thirty-six years after Sherman Adams was forced out as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chief of staff for accepting a vicuna coat from a corrupt financier, we witness the spectacle of Mike Espy.

President Clinton’s secretary of agriculture of course should have known better than to accept favors from Tyson Foods and Quaker Oats; now Atty. Gen. Janet Reno has had to ask for an independent counsel to investigate her fellow Cabinet member for possible prosecution.

This just days after a new counsel took over the Whitewater inquiry, which involves Clinton himself. And on Thursday the White House issued a ban on Administration officials accepting travel and lodging from private companies and associations, as if the need to shun such gifts were not already obvious. It is to be hoped that the appointment of Abner Mikva, an eminent federal judge, as the new White House counsel will bring ethical ballast to the Administration.

The gifts in the Espy matter were trivial: meals, transportation, lodging and sports tickets from Tyson Foods, a major Arkansas poultry producer regulated by Espy’s department, and a Chicago Bulls game ticket from Quaker Oats. The larger question is whether Espy--who denies any wrongdoing--granted these companies special favors. The independent counsel will delve into that, and we should await a fair investigation before drawing conclusions.

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Espy says he has reimbursed the two companies but has refused to repay Tyson for the expenses of his companion, Patricia Dempsey, because she is not a government official. Does he not realize that Tyson paid her way because she was his friend? The Agriculture Department would not tolerate such ethical standards in a meat inspector. Should it tolerate them in its leader?


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