President Bush's nominee for Treasury secretary, John W. Snow of CSX Corp., will face questioning at his confirmation hearing today from Democrats who contend that he was a pampered chief executive who profited from corporate favors, congressional aides said.
Nevertheless, Senate Finance Committee officials said the hearing will last less than one day and even Democrats predicted that Snow will be swiftly confirmed when the committee votes, possibly within a few days of the hearing.
Bush nominated Snow, who is chairman and chief executive of the Richmond-based transportation conglomerate, to succeed Paul H. O'Neill after he was abruptly fired as Treasury secretary in December. Administration officials said a major reason for Snow's selection was that he would be a credible and committed advocate for Bush's $674 billion jobs and growth package, which has so far proved to be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.
The Finance Committee released Snow's responses to senators' questions about his sale of 120,000 CSX shares last year, less than a month before the company announced weak earnings expectations that prompted the stock price to fall. Snow said he had indicated his intent to sell the shares four months in advance, and said that at the time of the August sale, "I had no knowledge that the company's third-quarter revenues would result in lower earnings."
Snow also was asked about CSX's forgiveness of a $24 million corporate loan that he used to buy CSX stock in 1996. Snow said the loan was forgiven because of changes that were made in a program that encouraged managers to buy stock, and he said his 10-year proceeds from participating in the program were $4 million.
The administration portrayed Snow as a champion of ethical corporate policies, noting that he co-chaired the Conference Board's Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Trust and Private Enterprise, which called for tougher corporate governance practices before they drew widespread public attention.
"John Snow has been a leader in the area of corporate best practices and he looks forward to addressing his record on this at the hearing," said Robert Nichols, the Treasury Department's chief spokesman.
Snow has resigned from the Commonwealth Club of Richmond, which excluded African Americans during part of the time he was a member. Snow said on his questionnaire that he "actively supported the application of the Club's first African American member," who joined in 1988. The administration noted that Snow served on the board of Virginia Union University, a historically black institution.
The administration, turning to a key Democratic constituency in an effort to sway potential critics on the committee, collected letters of praise for Snow from union leaders he worked with at CSX.