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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Cheney's conflict with the truth

ON "MEET THE PRESS" last Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush's vice president, I've severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven't had now, for over three years."

That is the latest White House lie.

Within 48 hours, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey pointed reporters toward Cheney's public financial disclosure sheets filed with the US Office of Government Ethics. The sheets show that in 2002, Cheney received $162,392 in deferred salary from Halliburton, the oil and military contracting company he ran before running for vice president. In 2001, Cheney received $205,298 in deferred salary from Halliburton.

The 2001 salary was more than Cheney's vice presidential salary of $198,600. Cheney also is still holding 433,333 stock options.

Flushed into the open, Cheney spokeswoman Catherine Martin said the vice president will continue to receive about $150,000 a year from Halliburton in 2003, 2004, and 2005. If President bush wins a second term, that means Cheney will make at least $800,000 from the company while sitting in office.

Martin said the payments did not represent a lie. She said Cheney had already earned that salary. She said Cheney took out an insurance policy that would guarantee the money would be paid to him no matter what happened to the company.

Five years ago, America was in a tizzy over President Clinton's "That depends on what the meaning of is, is." That was over lying about sex. For that, Clinton was impeached. Now, we have a vice president who tells America he has severed his ties even as his umbilical cord doubles his salary. To him, it depends what the meaning of i$, i$.

We know what the meaning of i$, i$ to Halliburton. It is by far the largest beneficiary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. With no-bid, no-ceiling contracts, the company has already amassed $2 billion in work. It is doing everything from restoring oil facilities to providing toilets for troops. A year ago Halliburton was staring at nearly a half-billion dollars in losses. In the second quarter of 2003 it posted a profit of $26 million.

No conflict of interest has been proven between Cheney's salary and Halliburton's Iraq work, but even before the invasion and occupation, Cheney's concern about the public's perception led to years of deception.

In the summer of 2000, he told Larry King that quitting Halliburton for the vice presidency means "I take a bath." He gave up a $1.3 million annual salary, but most people would have settled for mere shower droplets of his $33 million "retirement" package. By strange coincidence, at the time of the Republican National Convention, Halliburton gave about $280,000 to Republican candidates for office in the first half of 2000. It gave less than $10,000 to Democrats.

At the time, Cheney said: "I will take whatever steps I have to take to avoid any conflict of interest. That is to say, by the time I'm sworn in on January 20, I will have eliminated any possibility that I have a continuing financial interest in Halliburton stock or share price. . . . I will do whatever I have to do to guarantee that there's no conflict."

Cheney has set up the 433,333 stock options in a charitable trust. But his whole vice presidency has been a general conflict of interest, symbolized by his secret industrial society known as the Energy Task Force. Cheney has resisted all efforts by the General Accounting Office and advocacy groups to provide documents that detail the proceedings of the task force. In the two and a half years since the task force was convened, the White House has been on a rampage to slash or gut environmental measures.

Cheney's latest attempt to play Americans for fools came in the very same interview during which he was forced to say "I did misspeak" about Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons, a falsehood that whipped up support for the invasion. The question is how many more misspeaks and lies Americans will tolerate. Back when Clinton was in trouble, Cheney's wife, Lynne, said, "The Clintons are very good at defining and creating new realities that are based not on absolute truths, but on what they believe to be true at any given moment."

Clinton will be forever tarnished for "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Dick Cheney's continuing salary from the top profiteer of an invasion fueled by his sexed-up claims of Saddam Hussein's weapons is the creation of a new, mad reality. Cheney has said in so many words, "I did not have financial relations with Halliburton." Americans must determine whether that lie is as sexy as lies about sex. With nearly 300 American soldiers dead, one would hope so.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

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