WASHINGTON – The White House conceded Thursday that President Bush benefited from two loans he took while a director at a Texas oil company, but said that doesn't mean he can't oppose the practice now.
In a speech to Wall Street executives on Tuesday, Bush offered a 10-point plan for stopping corporate abuse. One point called for an end to loans for company officers.
Now, some say the president doesn't have the moral authority to call for such a change since he took two loans from Harken Energy Corp. in 1986 and 1989.
The low-interest loans totaled $180,375, which Bush used to buy stock in the firm. Harken gave Bush, who disclosed the loans at the time, a 5 percent interest rate and allowed him to pay back the principal in eight years.
Bush retired the debt without making a profit when he traded the shares that he bought and received options instead. He never exercised the options, according to White House spokesman Dan Bartlett.
Such types of loans have been a commonly accepted practice among corporate executives for years, but after recent scandals in which several profited from their companies perks while company revenues sank, the call for more ethical behavior has reached fever pitch.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "The president wants to draw a bright line against abuse."
Among the abuses that the president is looking to stop are loans for huge amounts of money — $3 billion in the case of cable company Adelphia's executives — used for such things as buying works of art.
"That is the definition of reform," one official said. "Something that was once legal and was being abused (that) now needs to be changed."
Officials note that most of the loans go to perfectly respectable executives participating in ethical behavior, but since a few have abused the system, the entire practice must end.
"The best way to stop the abuse is to stop the loans," said one administration official. Unfortunately, he added, "some babies may get thrown out with the bath water."
Fox News' Jim Angle and the Associated Press contributed to this report.