WASHINGTON – Embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz deserves a "fair process and a fair hearing of the facts" surrounding his involvement in arranging a promotion and pay package for his girlfriend, the White House said Wednesday.
The comments from presidential counselor Dan Bartlett came as the international lending institution's 24-member board edged closer to a decision on Wolfowitz's fate.
The controversy over Wolfowitz's handling of the 2005 promotion and compensation package for bank employee Shaha Riza has prompted calls for his resignation.
Wolfowitz attorney, Robert Bennett, has been pressing the bank to have more time for his client to defend himself. Specifically he wants more time to respond to a report by a special bank panel that accuses Wolfowitz of circumventing bank rules when he arranged for the compensation package.
Bartlett said the administration is not passing judgment yet on the facts in Wolfowitz's case. "We are in the middle of a process right now," he said. "What is important is a fair process and a fair hearing of the facts."
Wolfowitz on Sunday night received more than 600 pages of materials from the special panel, which he needs to thoroughly review before coming up with his response. Bennett has argued that Wolfowitz should have at least 5 business days to respond, consistent with bank rules.
Bennett also has complained about leaks about the special panel's findings in the Wolfowitz case earlier in the week. He called that "very harmful, not just to Mr. Wolfowitz personally but to the institution."
The bank's board will decide soon what action should be taken, and a range of disciplinary options has been discussed. It could fire Wolfowitz, ask him to resign, signal that it lacks confidence in his leadership or reprimand him.
White House press secretary Tony Snow on Wednesday sought to debunk any notion that President Bush's support for Wolfowitz had weakened. "We still support him fully," Snow said.
Snow on Tuesday had referred most questions about Wolfowitz's future to the World Bank and to the Treasury Department. But on Wednesday Snow said that shouldn't have been read as any wavering of support for Wolfowitz. "This is not hanging Paul Wolfowitz out to dry," he said.
France, meanwhile, wants a speedy resolution.
"We hope that the supervisory board meets quickly to speak out based on this report and any observations that Mr. Wolfowitz could provide," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said Wednesday.
"Our concern is ensuring the good work of the World Bank, its mission in the service of development and the fight against poverty," he said.
Riza worked for the bank before Wolfowitz took over in June 2005. She was moved to the State Department to avoid a conflict of interest but stayed on the bank's payroll. Her salary rose from close to $133,000 to $193,590, after pay raises.
Before he took over the bank, Wolfowitz was the No. 2 official at the Pentagon. He helped map the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Critics — including many European countries, many on the bank's staff, aid groups and others — want Wolfowitz to resign. They contend the controversy has tarnished the bank's reputation and could hobble its ability to raise billions of dollars from countries around the world to bankroll financial help for poor nations.
By tradition, the World Bank has been run by an American. Bush tapped Wolfowitz, a move that was approved by the bank's board. The United States keenly wants to keep that tradition firmly intact.