SEC Chairman Christopher Cox found at least one politically-charged case heading his way with just barely a couple of months on the job under his belt.
With former Senate majority leader Bill Frist under investigation for insider trading and former House majority leader Tom DeLay facing a number of indictments over his uses of campaign funds in Texas, the SEC is already working to stay clear of playing politics.
Cox, who until his appointment to the SEC, was a Congressman himself, has already recused himself from the agency's investigation of Frist. Cox's office released a statement explaining the move was to avoid any appearance of impropriety, shortly after the SEC's enforcement division announced the Frist probe would become an official investigation. The change now means the agency can subpoena phone records and e-mails.
The feds haven't yet had a chance to get involved in the DeLay charges, which have been brought be a Texas district attorney. Two separate grand juries indicted DeLay for his alleged involvement in money laundering just prior to the 2002 Texas election, a scheme the prosecutor said was designed to help Republicans win back the State House. In August, DeLay had come under fire for a separate matter, in which the Federal Election Commission criticized a political action committee he chaired for misstating accounts.
Both Frist and DeLay have denied the charges, Frist saying his family stocks were held in a blind trust, and DeLay saying the Texas charges rose out of political vendettas against him.
Frist's summer sale of his HCA Inc. stock -- the country's biggest hospital chain, founded by Frist's father and brother -- raised suspicions when his immediate family sold all their shares just two weeks before a major drop In its stock price. Though Frist aides have said the senator will turn over documents showing he planned to sell the stock in April, questions are continuing over Frist's involvement at all, if the stock was held in what was supposedly a blind trust.
On a recent episode of Saturday Night Live, a skit entitled, "The Misadventures of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist," featured the politicians on the run to the border, where they stopped to pick up a hitchhiking Bill Clinton. After Clinton jumped into the backseat, the former president offers some words of wisdom to the two scandal-plagued pols, telling them not to worry about the SEC, and that any investigation by the agency's simply wouldn't be sexy enough for the public to pay serious attention.
There's probably some truth to that point as some level. But even if the public and the Bush White House aren't yet up in arms over the Congressmen appearances of impropriety, the Bush-appointed SEC and its Republican majority has so far done a good job keeping a tight lid on its investigation of Frist and setting an example of how to try and keep politics out of a governmental agency's work.
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