Frank Wisner, a U.S. envoy sent to Cairo during the beginning of the anti-government protests, drew criticism this weekend for his comments that seemed to urge Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stay in power. Now, his business links are being called into question.
Robert Fisk writes in London's Independent that Wisner's work for a law firm appears to pose a conflict of interest because that firm -- not specifically Wisner -- has advised the Egyptian military and handled litigation on the government's behalf.
On Saturday , Wisner said it was "critical" that Mubarak stay in power.
"President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical: it's his opportunity to write his own legacy," he told a group of diplomats and security experts.
The comment drew criticism from Egyptian opposition groups and created a diplomatic challenge for the Obama administration, which has been making public comments urging Mubarak to begin a transition of power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mubarak must at least move aside to allow Vice President Omar Suleiman to engage in talks with the opposition.
"The mixed messages have been confusing and at times embarrassing — a reflection of a policy that, by necessity, has been made up on the fly," reports The New York Times.
The State Department and Wisner now claim his remarks were made in a "personal capacity."
Fisk argues that such an excuse cannot be used to gloss over Wisner's professional work.
"There is nothing 'personal' about Mr Wisner's connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises 'the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government's behalf in Europe and the US,' " Fisk writes.
See the Patton Boggs website page on its Egypt work.
"Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with U.S. government officials – nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent."
Fisk questions why the Obama administration sent Wisner to Egypt given his firm's connections.
Wisner is a retired diplomat who once served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt and is known to be close with Mubarak.
“He wasn’t sent there to flatter him and hold his hand,” Leslie H. Gelb, the longtime diplomat and journalist, told the New York Times last week. “He was sent there because he has a very close relationship with Mubarak, and because that’s the kind of person who can best deliver some hard messages.”
An American political researcher, Nicholas Noe, has investigated Wisner's connections with Patton Boggs and told the Independent the problem with him being sent to Cairo is that it poses a conflict of interest.
"Even in past examples where presidents have sent someone 'respected' or 'close' to a foreign leader in order to lubricate an exit, the envoys in question were not actually paid by the leader they were supposed to squeeze out!"
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