Truth be told

Hey Harriet, We have a few questions for you

Truth be told:When U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers takes the oath to tell the whole truth to the Senate Judiciary Committee next month, you might see former Texas Lottery Executive Director Lawrence Littwin in the gallery, smiling. He tried to get Miers to testify under oath six years ago and failed, but it seems likely that the questions he wanted to ask her then will now be asked by committee members.

In his lawsuit against Texas Lottery vendor Gtech, Littwin charged that in 1996, then-Governor George W. Bush ordered Miers, his appointee as chair of the Texas Lottery Commission, to skip the competitive bidding process and extend Gtech's $150 million contract. Bush, Littwin alleged, acted to ensure the silence of Gtech lobbyist Ben Barnes, who in 1968 as speaker of the Texas House arranged for Bush to jump to the head of a long line of applicants hoping to get into the Texas Air National Guard and out of Vietnam.

A 1997 anonymous letter addressed to U.S. attorney Dan Mills backed Littwin's claims. "[Bush aide Reggie] Bashur was sent to talk to Barnes who agreed never to confirm the story," the letter said, "and the Governor talked to the Chair of the Lottery two days later and she then agreed to support letting Gtech keep the contract without a bid."

Miers later reversed course after it came out that lottery executive director Nora Linares was dating a Gtech employee. Miers fired Linares in January 1997, put the contract up for bids and brought in Littwin that June to clean up the mess.

Of course that mess was making Gtech a lot of money, $23.1 millionof which went to Barnes to buy out his lobbying contract in February 1997. So when Littwin ordered an external audit of Gtech, including an investigation of possible payoffs to state officials, the company mounted a counteroffensive that included "bribery, extortion...and kickbacks to political officials and state officers," the suit alleged. Miers and the commission fired Littwin on October 29, 1997, dropped the investigation and extended Gtech's contract for five years.

Littwin wanted to get Miers under oath--but her lawyers successfully quashed his subpoena in 1999, forcing him to settle out of court. For $300,000, Gtech bought Littwin's silence and had Barnes' deposition in the case permanently sealed. --Rick Kennedy

 
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