By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz met yesterday with senior managers to promise unspecified changes in his leadership and to appeal for their help, even as he hired a prominent defense lawyer to represent him.
"I want to make sure his rights are fully protected," said Robert S. Bennett, whom Wolfowitz retained on Saturday. On Friday, the World Bank executive board named an ad hoc committee to consider "conflict of interest, ethical, reputational, and other relevant standards" in judging Wolfowitz's performance, including his role in setting the terms of a pay and promotion package for his girlfriend, a bank employee.
"He is not going to resign," Bennett said after meeting with Wolfowitz this weekend. "His mood is just fine. . . . He feels people are trying to interfere with his job to get at world poverty, and he wants to get this thing behind him so that he can concentrate 100 percent of his effort."
Bennett said the process should slow down and give Wolfowitz "an opportunity to present his side. . . . It would be grossly unfair to him and it would not speak well of the World Bank if they rush to judgment without giving us a reasonable time to put together an appropriate presentation."
The board has not set a timetable for deliberations, although finance ministers from donor nations urged a speedy resolution, warning of low staff morale and damage to the institution's reputation. Several ministers have indicated that they think Wolfowitz should resign, although President Bush has voiced his full backing.
More than three dozen former senior bank officials, including a number who served with Wolfowitz, signed a letter published yesterday in the Financial Times urging that he resign so the bank can "speak with the moral authority necessary to move the poverty agenda forward."
Bennett said the "stakes are very high" for Wolfowitz and the bank. A former federal prosecutor and a partner at the Washington law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, Bennett was President Bill Clinton's personal attorney in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
"There's nothing there," he said of ethics complaints about Wolfowitz. Bennett, who spoke in an interview, emphasized that Wolfowitz had asked to be recused from personnel decisions regarding his companion, Shaha Riza, just before he formally assumed the presidency in June 2005. The board's ethics committee subsequently ruled that under ethics rules she would have to leave, and it instructed him to arrange temporary outside employment for her.
According to documents released by the board this month concerning Riza's subsequent job at the State Department, Wolfowitz dictated bank-paid salary increases and promotions for her that exceeded the bank norm.
Yesterday, Wolfowitz told the managers that he had hired Bennett to handle his personal situation and to present publicly his side of the story, freeing him to concentrate on the bank's primary mission of helping the world's poor.
At yesterday's brief meeting, Wolfowitz said he appreciated senior managers' "brainstorming" about ways to improve bank management and said he is considering a "coach" to assist him in changing his leadership style.