Dole: What Wouldn't Bob Do for Koch Oil?

Article excerpt

Christopher Tucker didn't know what hit him. In spring 1989, the Texas small-business man was one of dozens of witnesses who testified before Senate investigators in support of allegations that Koch Oil, a Kansas-based company, had stolen more than $31 million in oil from Native Americans and other producers. In the following months, stories began appearing in Oklahoma newspapers depicting Tucker as a perjurer. His landlady's daughter told him she spotted two men in business suits carting away his trash, apparently to search for derogatory information. Tucker also received an odd phone call from the Senate Indian Affairs investigating committee informing him that four influential senators had sent the panel a letter denouncing his credibility. The two-page correspondence, dated November 2, 1989, was signed by Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas and Don Nickles and David Boren of Oklahoma.

"We have received information that...calls into question the accuracy of Mr. Tucker's sworn testimony before the Special Committee regarding his qualifications," the senators wrote. They noted that Tucker had testified on May 9, 1989, that his company, Tucker Inspections, "is a U. S. Customs approved public gauger," authorized to measure oil in international commerce. Yet the senators remonstrated that they had made inquiries and were informed that "as of May 9, 1989, the U.S. Customs Service had not approved Tucker Inspections, Incorporated' as a commercial gauger." Dole and the others expressed alarm at this discrepancy and even suggested criminal sanctions. "This is a serious matter. It is clear that Mr. Tucker's professional qualifications were not accurately presented to the Special Committee, and this obviously taints his testimony. We trust you will take appropriate action regarding Mr. Tucker."

What the letter didn't mention was that prior to Tucker's testimony, Tucker Inspections had indeed gone through the procedures to gain Customs approval; all that was missing was a bond, a routine requirement. Even that technicality had been fulfilled by the time the four senators fired off their letter. Rather than being a "serious matter," the complaint against Tucker appeared trivial, the sort of nitpicking against a citizen that lacked any proportionality, given the power of the senators. "They attacked him in an effort to discredit the investigation," said former Senator Dennis DeConcini, who cochaired the Indian oil investigation with Senator John McCain. "But his testimony was credible."

Tucker's testimony--that he had discovered false measurements by some Koch Oil employees--was barely a footnote to the investigation. More central to it were Koch's internal records, which showed that in one three-year period, Koch netted at least $31 million in oil not paid for, the Senate's final report stated. In addition, an F.B.I. agent testified that he and other committee investigators witnessed Koch employees steal oil at six different sites. Yet according to committee sources, Dole's office followed up the letter by summoning senior committee investigators and again demanding stern action against Tucker. The investigators countered by offering Dole and his aides a chance to review the evidence against Koch Oil. But neither Dole nor his staff would agree to look at the evidence, said the committee sources, who insisted on anonymity. James Wholey, Dole's administrative assistant in 1989, has not returned phone calls seeking comment.

The question raised by the letter and the pressuring of the Senate committee staff is, of course, What drove Bob Dole and three other busy senators to mount a determined defense of Koch Oil and gang up on Christopher Tucker? "Not to offend [the senators], but when you have a constituent you want to help, you have to say something other than 'He gave to my campaign,"' DeConcini told The Nation. "You have to have some hook, some excuse to write a letter. That's the way it works."

Yet an examination by The Nation of the links between Dole and the owners of Koch Oil shows not only political interference in the Senate's Indian oil investigation but potential new conflicts of interest for a Dole presidency over ongoing criminal and civil cases against Koch in Texas (where a federal grand jury has been convened to hear evidence of an alleged pattern of corporate crime) and Oklahoma. …