Exports Nominee Tied to 2 Watch List Firms; Trade Clients May Be Affected

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim McElhatton, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama's pick to oversee export controls at the Commerce Department is a trade lawyer whose recent clients include two companies on a government watch list and a shipping business that agreed to pay millions of dollars last year to resolve a federal probe into shipments to Iran, Sudan and Syria.

All three companies have had recent interests before the government office that Eric Hirschhorn would oversee if he is confirmed as undersecretary of commerce for industry and security.

Under Mr. Obama's ethics rules, appointees are prohibited from working on matters involving recent clients unless they obtain a special waiver. Administration officials say there are no plans to give Mr. Hirschhorn a waiver, nor has he requested one.

If confirmed, Mr. Hirschhorn will be required to recuse himself for two years on all matters in which his former clients are parties or represent parties, Commerce Department spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said.

Mr. Hirschhorn's nomination has languished even as Mr. Obama makes a public push to double American exports over the next five years. In a trade speech Thursday, Mr. Obama called for broader export control reform efforts.

Mr. Hirschhorn would over see the Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security, which controls exports of technology, software and dual-use items that can be used for both commercial and military purposes. The bureau processed more than 20,000 licenses in 2008.

Another top export official at the department, Kevin J. Wolf, a trade lawyer recently confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary for export administration, is recusing himself from matters involving 36 former clients, including major exporters such as Raytheon and Boeing.

Mr. Hirschhorn's financial disclosure form lists more than two dozen recent law clients, including railroad company Pan Am Systems Inc., telecommunications manufacturer TranSwitch Corp. and Philip Morris. But three clients in particular appear to have strong interests in activities at the Commerce Department.

According to the ethics form, Mr. Hirschhorn provided legal services for the company previously known as DHL Holdings, a U.S.-based unit of the international shipping company. Last year, DHL agreed to pay $9.4 million to settle a federal investigation into shipments to Iran, Sudan and Syria.

Under the settlement, the company also agreed to comprehensive audits this year and next year in compliance with export laws to be sent for review to the Commerce Department.

Two other recent clients of Mr. Hirschhorn's are TLG Electronics and United Sources Industrial Enterprises, both of Hong Kong. They've been placed on the Commerce Department's entity list of companies subject to strict export licensing rules.

According to government records, both companies were put on the list because of suspected ties to Dubai-based Mayrow General Trading, a company that federal officials tied to manufactured parts found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs), roadside bombs used in Iraq. …