Monday, October 9, 2006

Falling on the Sword

When Ed Navarra learned on October 6 that Susan Bonzon Ralston had resigned from her post as a special assistant to President George W. Bush, his gut told him that she was being made a "scapegoat".

"Someone has to fall on the sword for the emperor and I guess it's Susan," Navarra noted sadly.

Navarra, the Midwest Region chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), immediately dashed off an email to President Bush to express his personal "regrets and dissatisfaction" with Ralston's resignation from the Bush administration. "Her departure," he wrote, "has left a void in our quest for empowerment especially in the Filipino American community and in the Asian Pacific American communities as well."

It was Navarra who had personally invited Ralston to be the keynote speaker at the 6th NaFFAA National Empowerment Conference in Chicago on September 12, 2004. In her speech to the NaFFAA delegates, Ralston talked about how privileged she felt to work on a daily basis with Pres. Bush "who is always working for the interests of the American people." But unlike the other speaker, Gen. Antonio Taguba (of Abu Ghraib fame), Ralston refused to talk about the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill supported by NaFFAA.

When asked at a press conference before her speech if she would be willing to use her White House influence to advocate for the Filipino WW II veterans, Ralston demurred, declaring "I don't do policy."

Documents released last week by the House Government Reform Committee (HGRC) disclosed that Ralston was very much involved in policy, but with Presidential Adviser Karl Rove and with superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The question Navarra may be asking now is the identity of the "emperor" that Ralston fell on the sword for.

Was it Rove? In testifying before the Grand Jury investigating Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, Ralston testified that Rove's 2003 phone conversation with Time reporter Matt Cooper (where Rove disclosed Plame's CIA identity) was not logged in the Rove's White House records because it was coursed by a switchboard rather than a direct line.

Ralston's explanation may not be considered credible because other White House switchboard calls had been logged in but it nonetheless provided Rove with enough of an excuse to plausibly deny recalling his 2003 meeting with Cooper. Her explanation provided the "shadow of doubt" that Rove desperately needed to avoid being indicted along with Vice-President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Was it Abramoff? Ralston had worked as his Executive Assistant when he worked at Preston Gates and later at the Greenberg Taurig law and lobbying firm, where she served as the assistant director of governmental affairs. When Karl Rove asked Abramoff to recommend a Special Assistant to work with him at the White House in 2001, he offered Ralston. On Abramoff's say so, Rove hired Ralston as his assistant in "overseeing the strategic planning, political affairs, public liaison, and intergovernmental affairs efforts of the White House."

Abramoff was later indicted and convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges and of using White House contacts to advance his clients' interests. He is cooperating with government investigators. Last week, the HGRC released the 66 emails of Abramoff to the White House, half of them to Ralston. The report also noted that Abramoff's lobbying team had contacted Ralston 69 times.

The HGRC reported that Ralston had passed along inside information to Abramoff at a time when she accepted his tickets to sporting and entertainment events including concerts of Bruce Springsteen and Andrea Boccelli. The White House Counsel is investigating Ralston for those undeclared gifts.

The charge of Navarra, a Republican, that Ralston was being made a "scapegoat" was echoed by California Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, who told the press that he suspects the White House is making Ralston a scapegoat.

"There is a lot that we don't yet know about the assistance that Ms. Ralston
provided Mr. Abramoff from inside the White House, but the vast majority of lobbying contacts and meals with White House officials documented in the report were with White House officials other than Ms. Ralston," Waxman said. (Could Pres. Bush be the "emperor"?)

Before emailing Pres. Bush, Navarra contacted Ralston's father, Dr. Tom Bonzon, to inquire about his daughter. He replied that Susan was "doing just fine, feeling quite relieved."

"She won't grant interviews and considers the matter of her resignation closed," Dr. Bonzon wrote. "She thanks everyone that expressed care and concern. She will most assuredly go on with her life - with firm conviction that in almost 6 years in the WH, she did her best to serve President Bush and the country."

"Tita and I hope that maybe, just maybe Susan will now have time to consider raising a family a viable option - something she could not do while in the WH - working 16-18 hours a day. The media, especially the bloggers, are busy on this news item. We hope the buzz dies down soon."

Given that Ralston is embroiled in the Karl Rove, Abramoff, and White House Counsel's ethics investigations, the buzz-die wishes of her Filipino American parents are unlikely to be granted.

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