WASHINGTON – World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has hired a prominent attorney as he fights to keep his job, in jeopardy for arranging a generous compensation package for a bank employee with whom he has been romantically linked.
"I want to be sure that he receives appropriate treatment and fair treatment," Robert Bennett, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, said Monday.
Bennett said he was retained Saturday, one day after the World Bank's board ordered a special panel on whether, among other things, Wolfowitz properly handled the promotion of Shaha Riza to a high-paying job at the State Department in 2005.
Wolfowitz, who has said he made a mistake and has apologized, said he got involved in Riza's job transfer shortly after he took the helm with the hope of avoiding a conflict of interest.
"I've reviewed all the material — all the relevant material — and it is absolutely clear to me that he acted in total good faith in this," Bennett said.
The bank's staff association, former bank executives, some Democrat politicians, and aid groups want Wolfowitz to resign.
A former federal prosecutor, Bennett is a seasoned trial lawyer who has handled various high-profile cases in criminal, civil and other matter for the past 35 years. His previous clients include former President Bill Clinton in the Paula Jones case, two former secretaries of defense, Clark Clifford and Caspar Weinberger, and more recently former New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the CIA leak investigation.
Documents released in the past couple of weeks showed that Wolfowitz had a direct hand in securing a State Department job for Riza in September 2005 that pays her $193,590. Before the transfer, Riza was earning close to $133,000 as a communications adviser in the bank's Middle East department.
Riza remains on the World Bank's payroll even though she left the State Department job in 2006 and now works for Foundation for the Future, an international organization that gets some money from the department. "I have now been victimized" for agreeing to the arrangement, Riza said in a recent memo to the bank.
The World Bank board last week asked the special panel to look into Wolfowitz's handling of Riza's compensation package with regard to bank rules and "conflict of interest, ethical, reputational and other relevant standards."
The special panel is to make recommendations to the 24-member World Bank board. It is unclear what action, if any, the board will take. The board has been divided on the matter.
The United States — the bank's largest shareholder — has expressed confidence for Wolfowitz. Some representatives of European governments would like to see Wolfowitz go. Some Asian and African governments have been supportive of Wolfowitz.