AUSTIN, Texas – A Senate panel may seek testimony from a former Texas lottery official who claimed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (search) let a company keep its contract because one of its lobbyists helped President Bush get into the National Guard in the 1960s.
Miers, whose confirmation hearings begin Nov. 7, chaired the three-person Texas Lottery commission from 1995 to 2000.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Miers' nomination, recently asked GTECH Corp., the Texas lottery's main contractor, whether it would object to testimony from Lawrence Littwin about allegations in his 1998 lawsuit against the company, GTECH spokesman Bob Vincent said Wednesday.
Littwin, the lottery's second executive director, was fired in 1997 after just four months on the job. He sued GTECH, saying it took "illegal, unethical and coercive steps" to get him fired because he was asking too many questions about the company's contract with the state.
He claimed the Rhode Island-based company kept its contract in exchange for former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes' silence about how he had helped Bush get into the National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam. Barnes was a lobbyist for GTECH from 1991 until 1997.
Littwin, who signed a confidentiality agreement when he settled his lawsuit against GTECH, declined to comment other than to say he would agree to testify if subpoenaed.
Vincent said his company told the Senate committee that Littwin didn't need permission to testify because the confidentiality agreement he signed when he settled his lawsuit allowed him to discuss the issues with government authorities.
If the issues are raised at the hearings, GTECH will provide any additional information the senators need, Vincent said.
Barnes and GTECH have denied any improprieties. Barnes has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment on the issue.
As the lottery commission's chairwoman, Miers spearheaded an investigation into GTECH's hiring practices, internal policies and views on influencing government officials amid complaints the company's relationship with top lottery officials was too cozy.
After a yearlong inquiry, the commission decided in 1998 to stick with the company, saying it couldn't find a better deal.
Before Littwin's lawsuit, Barnes, who was lieutenant governor from 1969 to 1973, said he couldn't recall helping Bush at the height of the Vietnam War. But he later testified that he'd recommended Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.
The issue re-emerged during last year's presidential race, when Barnes said at an Austin campaign rally for Democrat John Kerry that he regretted helping Bush and other wealthy young men avoid service overseas.
John Hill and Anthony Sadberry, the other two lottery commissioners who served during the GTECH controversy, have insisted Miers always acted ethically and independently.