New York Times still pays Army nom­i­nee

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nee for U.S. Army gen­eral coun­sel, who pledges to in­ves­ti­gate any­one leak­ing mil­i­tary se­crets to the me­dia, will re­ceive at least $1 mil­lion in de­ferred com­pen­sa­tion from the New York Times Co. even as he works for the gov­ern­ment, records show.

Solomon B. Wat­son IV, for­mer chief le­gal of­fi­cer for the news­pa­per, is due the money through an ex­ec­u­tive pay­out plan that ends in 2015, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent gov­ern­ment ethics form.

Mr. Wat­son’s work as chief le­gal of­fi­cer for the New York Times has emerged as a key is­sue for sev­eral Repub­li­cans, who ques­tion his role when the news­pa­per pub­lished two ar­ti­cles based on highly classified mil­i­tary se­crets in 2005 and 2006.

“I would take an ag­gres­sive action against any­one in the Depart­ment of the Army who leaks classified in­for­ma­tion,” Mr. Wat­son told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent gov­ern­ment ethics fil­ing, Mr. Wat­son, who re­signed as chief le­gal of­fi­cer at the news­pa­per com­pany in late 2006, ex­pects six more pay­ments from a New York Times Co. ex­ec­u­tive com­pen­sa­tion plan, end­ing in 2015. His con­fir­ma­tion is pend­ing.

The plan is val­ued at be­tween $1 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion, records show.

Scott Amey, gen­eral coun­sel for the non­par­ti­san Project On Gov­ern­ment Over­sight, said if Mr. Wat­son is con­tin­u­ing to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion from the news­pa­per com­pany, the Army should “cre­ate a fire wall be­tween Mr. Wat­son and the New York Times Co.”

The Army de­clined to com­ment on Mr. Wat­son’s fi­nan­cial ties to the news­pa­per com­pany and re­ferred ques­tions to the White House. A phone mes­sage left at a New York num­ber listed un­der Mr. Wat­son’s name was not re­turned.

White House spokesman Tommy Vi­etor told The Wash­ing­ton Times in an e-mail March 31 that Mr. Wat­son “is re­cused from mat­ters that have a di­rect and pre­dictable ef­fect on the fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests of The New York Times.”

Be­cause of his par­tic­i­pa­tion in the com­pany’s de­ferred ex­ec­u­tive com­pen­sa­tion and re­tire­ment and pen­sion plans, Mr. Wat­son agreed to be re­cused un­less he gets a writ­ten waiver or qual­i­fies for a reg­u­la­tory ex­emp­tion, Mr. Vi­etor said.

“It is our un­der­stand­ing that Mr. Wat­son will be fully com­pli­ant with all ethics laws and able to per­form the du­ties of his po­si­tion with th­ese re­cusals in place,” Mr. Vi­etor said.

Diane McNulty, a New York Times spokes­woman, said Mr. Wat­son’s de­ferred com­pen­sa­tion plan was orig­i­nally ap­proved by the com­pany’s board of direc­tors. She said the news­pa­per does not ex­pect to com­mu­ni­cate with Mr. Wat­son on spe­cific is­sues per­tain­ing to the news­pa­per, such as open records re­quests. Nor does the com­pany make pay­ments to in­crease the value of the plan af­ter Mr. Wat­son’s re­tire­ment, she said.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Obama’s ethics rules, po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees gen­er­ally are barred from spe­cific mat­ters in­volv­ing for­mer em­ploy­ers or clients for a pe­riod of two years af­ter their em­ploy­ment.

Mr. Wat­son left the com­pany well over two years ago, but he is con­tin­u­ing to re­ceive sub­stan­tial in­come from his for­mer em­ployer.

The de­ferred com­pen­sa­tion vet­eran who earned a Bronze Star and com­men­da­tion medals. His fi­nan­cial ties to the com­pany did not sur­face dur­ing his Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing last month, but he was ques­tioned re­peat­edly about his work for the news­pa­per.

Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, said that while Mr. Wat­son worked as the news­pa­per com­pany’s at­tor­ney, “the New York Times pub­lished two sto­ries which re­vealed highly classified in­for­ma­tion” amid con­cerns that the dis­clo­sures would jeop­ar­dize na­tional se­cu­rity.

One of the sto­ries, pub­lished in 2005, won a Pulitzer Prize. It re­ported that Pres­i­dent Bush had se­cretly au­tho­rized the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency to mon­i­tor phone calls and e-mail of Amer­i­cans and oth­ers in­side the U.S. for ev­i­dence of ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity without court-ap­proved war­rants.

In a Se­nate floor state­ment, Mr. McCain said he wanted to know more about Mr. Wat­son’s role in run­ning the sto­ries. Mr.

Mr. Wat­son dis­tanced him­self from the de­ci­sion to run two ar­ti­cles based on highly classified mil­i­tary se­crets, telling Sen. John McCain, “Se­na­tor, my opin­ion is that the de­ci­sion to pub­lish them was jus­ti­fied; were it my de­ci­sion to make, I would not have made that de­ci­sion. “I do not, as a pro­fes­sional, abide peo­ple leak­ing classified in­for­ma­tion.”

deal wasn’t Mr. Wat­son’s only source of cash. He also re­ported re­ceiv­ing $16,861 per month dur­ing 2008 and most of 2009 through the news­pa­per com­pany’s sup­ple­men­tal ex­ec­u­tive re­tire­ment plan, and an­other $6,050 per month through a pen­sion plan, records show.

Mr. Wat­son is a Viet­nam War McCain said the White House had urged the news­pa­per not to pub­lish the in­for­ma­tion, and for­mer CIA Di­rec­tor Porter J. Goss later said of the dis­clo­sure: “The dam­age has been very se­vere to our ca­pa­bil­i­ties to carry out our mis­sion.”

Pressed by Mr. McCain, Mr. Wat­son said the pub­li­ca­tions of the sto­ries “were con­sis­tent with the law at the time they were pub­lished.” He also said he was not the per­son re­spon­si­ble for re­view­ing the sto­ries, which the news­pa­per has de­fended.

Ms. McNulty told a New York Times re­porter cov­er­ing Mr. Wat­son’s hear­ing last month that the sto­ries were “im­por­tant pieces of jour­nal­ism, done re­spon­si­bly and pro­tected by the First Amend­ment.”

Still, Mr. Wat­son dis­tanced him­self from the de­ci­sion to run the sto­ries, telling Mr. McCain, “Se­na­tor, my opin­ion is that the de­ci­sion to pub­lish them was jus­ti­fied; were it my de­ci­sion to make, I would not have made that de­ci­sion.

“I do not, as a pro­fes­sional, abide peo­ple leak­ing classified in­for­ma­tion.”

Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, Ge­or­gia Repub­li­can, said he was trou­bled that Mr. Wat­son wasn’t more in­volved in the de­ci­sion on whether to pub­lish the classified mil­i­tary in­for­ma­tion.

“It both­ers me, as the top lawyer in that firm, so to speak, that you weren’t en­gaged and weren’t in­volved in the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process on that and now you’re go­ing to be in a po­si­tion to be the top lawyer at the Army,” Mr. Cham­b­liss told Mr. Wat­son.

Mr. Wat­son’s nom­i­na­tion was an­nounced af­ter the pre­vi­ous nom­i­nee, Don­ald Remy, faced ques­tions from Repub­li­cans who were up­set that he left off the name of trou­bled mort­gage gi­ant Fan­nie Mae on a work his­tory state­ment he had sub­mit­ted to the Se­nate.

Mr. Remy, who pre­vi­ously worked as Fan­nie Mae’s chief com­pli­ance of­fi­cer, de­scribed his for­mer em­ployer as “a ma­jor U.S. com­pany.” The name of the com­pany was cited in other pa­per­work sent to the Se­nate, but Mr. Remy, who called the omis­sion a mis­take, even­tu­ally with­drew his nom­i­na­tion last year.


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