Wil Hylton, who wrote a fascinating article on Colin Powell awhile back, has come out with a new fascinating look at Alan Greenspan.  I have only skimmed it so far, but it seems to be chock full of interesting details of Greenspan’s past.  For instance, this passage sheds light on how Reid’s phrase “political hack” is quite appropriate:

Greenspan soon became involved in Ford’s 1976 reelection campaign, too, reprising the role he had played for Nixon eight years earlier. Still technically chairman of the economic council, he began to spend a large portion of his time on the road with the campaign, advising on both policy and strategy. Ford had fallen thirty points behind Jimmy Carter by August of 1976, and Greenspan was part of the elite circle of aides assigned to put the president back in the race. Touring the country with Jim Baker, Dick Cheney, and Ford, Greenspan was involved in virtually every aspect of the campaign. “He was the substance guy on economic stuff,” says a source from the campaign. “But there was also a feeling that he understood the politics. That’s why he was on the plane.”

But in terms of one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen in an interview, here is former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady giving Hylton an interview, and then, realizing that what he said would reflect quite unfavorably on Greenspan, TRYS TO TAKE IT BACK! This is the accusation of an “ethics breach” which I refer to in the title of this diary:

[Greenspan] offered the president a deal: If Bush would persuade Congress to raise taxes and tackle the deficit, violating his 1988 campaign promise–“Read my lips, no new taxes”–Greenspan would cut the interest rate and boost the economy in time for the 1992 campaign.

For years, stories about that deal have circulated in political circles, but they can be difficult to pin down. Greenspan has denied any quid pro quo with the forty-first president, and although Bush has offered comments that seem to allude to a trade–“I reappointed him, and he disappointed me,” he told an interviewer in 1998–nobody has ever gone on the record to verify it. This makes the subject somewhat difficult to report. In the course of numerous interviews about Greenspan with Bush appointees, I heard the rumor many times, but no one would go on the record–until I called Nicholas Brady.

Bush’s treasury secretary from 1989 to 1993, Brady is known for his brash and blunt style, and I heard from sources that he felt Greenspan had broken the deal–doing too little, too late, to boost the economy. I wanted to hear that from Brady myself–not only to understand why he might think Greenspan had burned him, but also whether the “deal” had really been explicit. It is one thing to send signals to the White House; it is something else to make a trade. Reaching Brady proved difficult. I called him more than a dozen times last winter, and his secretary told me repeatedly to call back later. But when I finally reached him, Brady didn’t hesitate to talk. I asked about the deal–if he had been disappointed by Greenspan as Bush had been.

“It was very frustrating,” Brady said. “There was an agreement that if the president would tackle the fiscal policy, he would lower interest rates…. He just plain didn’t do what he said he was going to do.”

I asked Brady why he thought Greenspan hadn’t followed through, and he said, “I have no idea. Particularly since that was the agreement.”

“How clear was the agreement?” I asked. “Are you sure that he understood the agreement?”

“He’s a smart guy,” said Brady. “Was it signed in blood? No. Was it discussed thoroughly? Absolutely.”

“Are you surprised at how long he’s made it, if he doesn’t honor these agreements?”

“That’s not my job,” Brady snapped.

“Okay, well, I appreciate it,” I said.

“Righto,” Brady said.

A few hours later, Brady called me back.

“Lookit,” he said, “would you send me the quotes that you’re going to use of mine, because you got going pretty aggressively. I don’t mean I won’t say what I said, but I want to see what I said before I’m quoted.”

“I can talk to you about what you said,” I told him, “but we don’t read back quotes. It’s the first thing you learn in journalism.”

“I was in the government for four and a half years,” he barked. “I think I understand the system. But I mean, you know, you might as well get it right, because if you get it wrong, I’m going to write a letter to the editor, stuff like that.”

I offered to give Brady the gist of his comments to think about, but he interrupted me: “I’m not interested in the gist. I’m interested in specifically what I said.”

“Are you backing off from the interview?” I asked.

“I’m not backing off from the interview, I’m backing off from your interpretation of the interview.”

“Well, unfortunately, after you do an interview, it’s not protocol to go back and take it back,” I said.

“Unless it’s inaccurate.”

“The accuracy is in the transcript,” I told him.

A few hours later, I got another call from Brady’s secretary, asking for my mailing address; then, that afternoon, I got a third call from Brady, then another, into the evening and through the next day, trying to remember exactly what he’d said and then back off from it.

Finally, I arrived at work one morning and found this message on my answering machine: “Wil, this is Nick Brady. I gather you’re not willing to send me the transcript of my conversation with you. In that case, I would like to withdraw the interview.” Clearly, Brady was having second thoughts. However important his story was, it seemed obvious that he expected to pay a price for telling it, for implicating Greenspan in an ethical breach and possibly a quid pro quo.  

The whole article is a must-read, especially in light of the fact that Greenspan is now carrying water for Bush’s Social Security destruction plan. I definitely recommend that everyone read this article.

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