McCain presses Pentagon nominee on conflicts
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is seeking details on how William Lynn, a former Raytheon Co lobbyist, would meet conflict-of-interest rules if confirmed as deputy secretary of defense.
McCain, President Barack Obama's opponent in the November election, asked Lynn to spell out what impact, if any, Executive-branch ethics requirements might have on his ability "to discharge fully your responsibilities as deputy secretary."
In a letter dated on Monday, the senator from Arizona said Lynn, if confirmed by the Senate, likely would face decisions affecting many matters in which Raytheon, one of the Pentagon's top suppliers, had a financial interest.
He cited airborne and naval weapons systems, missile defense, precision-guided weapons and munitions, as well as systems used in space, for radar and command-control, among others.
"Against that backdrop and to inform whether I can support your nomination," McCain sought a detailed listing by Friday of the matters from which Lynn thought he would have to disqualify himself under existing rules to avoid a possible conflict of interest.
Obama, as one of his first White House acts last week, ordered strict new curbs on a Washington tradition of "revolving door" appointees who have gone from government jobs to lobbying or vice versa.
The policy requires appointees to disqualify themselves from work related to their former employer or clients, as well as from matters or issues for which they lobbied in the previous two years.
But Obama waived the "revolving door" provisions for Lynn, a Pentagon chief financial officer under President Bill Clinton whom Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Bush administration holdover, has lauded as the best candidate for the No. 2 spot.
A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said: "Experts from both parties say that Mr. Lynn's experience and expertise make him the best qualified person for this critical job."
McCain's letter was first reported by the Washington Post.
Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee, endorsed Lynn's nomination on Friday and said he looked forward to prompt Senate consideration after the White House issued the waiver.
Levin said Lynn would be held to previously existing ethics rules, which require officials to seek approval for one year to take part in any decision involving a prior employer.
A committee spokesman said on Wednesday he knew of no immediate plans to vote on Lynn's nomination. If confirmed, he would divest himself of any stocks in companies doing business with the Pentagon to prevent him from benefiting financially from any decisions he might make in the new job.
Lynn, who earned a $369,615 salary last year, was among a group of Raytheon employees who lobbied the administration and Congress in the past two years on matters ranging from the military's use of space to missile defense, acquisition policy and financing for foreign military sales, according to lobbying disclosure records filed with the Senate.
Lynn's public financial disclosures show he had stock in Raytheon valued at up to $1 million he could sell next month after it "vests" or becomes available to him to sell or transfer. In addition, he is eligible for a company bonus in March worth up to $250,000.
Lynn would be forfeiting additional Raytheon stock that could be worth as much as $500,000, according to a January 13 financial disclosure filed to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. These shares had been awarded by Raytheon, but have not yet "vested."
The Project on Government Oversight and other private watchdog groups have argued that Lynn's confirmation would undercut Obama's new anti-"revolving door" push.
"It's going to take more than a waiver and a divestiture of stocks to remove the ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns raised by Lynn's nomination," said Mandy Smithberger, a POGO national security investigator.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Andre Grenon)
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