Brown quizzed on severance pay


WASHINGTON -- Ronald H. Brown confirmed yesterday that he will reap about $1 million in severance pay when he gives up his partnership with a Washington law firm to become secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration.

Mr. Brown bristled when South Dakota Republican Sen. Larry Pressler asked about the payment during an otherwise placid Senate confirmation hearing on Mr. Brown's appointment -- the first of President-elect Bill Clinton's Cabinet nominations to come under Senate scrutiny.

"Well, Senator, I was told that information on my financial disclosure statements was confidential," Mr. Brown replied.

Mr. Pressler explained that he was not quoting from a disclosure statement but from a report in Congress Daily, a Capitol Hill newsletter.

"That's how confidential it was," remarked Mr. Brown wryly. He acknowledged, though, that he would receive about $1 million from Patton, Boggs & Blow, a leading lobbying law firm, when his resignation as a partner takes effect Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

The disclosure drew no further questions from the other members of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which finished questioning Mr. Brown yesterday.

Some senators of both parties said later they had submitted written questions to the nominee but expected no obstacles to his confirmation, which they said would probably be put to a Senate vote soon after the inauguration.

"Unless there is something more in documents that we have not seen . . . there is nothing to stop this confirmation," said Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott, a member of the committee who is leading the GOP's inquiries into the Clinton nominations.

Democrats on the committee moved early to deflate a possible character attack by Republicans on Mr. Brown, who, aside from being the Democratic National Committee chairman, has been a lobbyist for foreign companies and once represented the government of Haiti under since-deposed dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

Mr. Brown portrayed his representation of the corrupt and brutal Duvalier government as an attempt -- with partial success, he said -- to agitate for human rights reforms in that country.

Texas Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who will himself soon be facing a Senate hearing to confirm his nomination as treasury secretary, praised Mr. Brown's "sacrifice" in giving up a lucrative career as a lawyer-lobbyist to enter the public service.

"I will never be an unethical person, whether there are rules or no rules," said Mr. Brown, declaring that he had, or soon would be, giving up all but a few "insignificant" private earnings.

He also said that he would sign a commitment to abide by a code of ethics proposed by the Clinton transition team which will preclude government executives from lobbying their former agencies for five years after leaving office, and for life in the case of lobbying for foreign governments.

He pledged to develop a "new partnership" between government and business, and to strive to improve U.S. competitiveness in international markets.

Responding to questions from Mr. Lott, Mr. Brown said that while his law firm had represented the scandal-stained Bank of Credit and Commerce International, he had not been personally involved with the client. The bank has been accused of financing illegal arms sales to Iraq.

Mr. Brown said he would sever ties with private interests, in line with Mr. Clinton's proposed ethics code.

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