WASHINGTON – Treasury secretary nominee John Snow, pledging his commitment "to the highest standards of ethical conduct," says he will sell off his extensive stock holdings in CSX Corp. and 60 other companies if confirmed by the Senate.
President Bush is convinced Snow will win Senate confirmation, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters, despite revelations that Snow was charged in 1982 with drunken driving and once battled his ex-wife over child custody payments.
While most Republican senators agreed with the White House, several Democrats said they would withhold judgment until Snow appears next Tuesday for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
"Mr. Snow will receive a fair hearing, but not a rubber stamp," said Montana Sen. Max Baucus, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee. "I look forward to talking to Mr. Snow and obtaining all of the facts."
Bush picked Snow, chairman of the CSX Corp. railroad company, last month to replace his first Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, who was ousted in a shake-up of the administration's economic team.
Snow's financial disclosure statement, which reported his holdings in broad ranges, showed that he would be one of the wealthiest members of the Bush Cabinet, with holdings valued at between $77 million and $297 million.
Snow said that if he was confirmed he would sell off all his stocks and put the money in diversified mutual funds. Such a move would go beyond what is required by government ethics laws, which generally prohibit a Treasury secretary from holding stocks in financial service companies such as banks or investment firms because of Treasury's oversight role in those industries.
In a letter explaining his decision, Snow said, "I am committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct for government officials."
Snow's action would allow him to escape a controversy that dogged O'Neill, who was forced after several months to sell his holdings in Alcoa Corp., a company he formerly headed.
Snow said he would recuse himself from participating in any decisions involving CSX, the giant freight railroad company he has headed for more than a decade, for the duration of his tenure at Treasury. He also said he would forgo a lucrative severance package estimated at up to $15 million. Still, Snow's stewardship at CSX was expected to come under close scrutiny by the Senate panel.
Tuesday night the Finance Committee released Snow's responses to a committee questionnaire in which he said he was charged with drunken driving in 1982 in Utah but that the charge was dismissed before trial; instead he paid a $334 fine for making an improper turn.
Snow also disclosed that his ex-wife, Frederica Wheeler, had sued him in Montgomery County, Md., in March 1988 for failing to pay child support for his two sons. Snow denied the charges, contending that the sons were living with him at the time. The court ordered Snow to pay child support for his son Ian over a 19-month period but dismissed the other claims.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Finance Committee, said he had no hesitation in supporting Snow. "He is a very able leader. None of us is perfect," he said.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., another member of the committee, said his greatest concern was Snow's stance on the budget deficits that will be produced if Bush's $674 billion economic stimulus program is enacted - a program that Snow will be expected to sell to Congress.