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Pitt: Cheney's Status Won't Affect Probe

Accounting: SEC chief did not take Bush's comment as a hint to clear the vice president.

July 20, 2002|From Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey L. Pitt said Friday that his agency's probe of accounting at Halliburton Co. under Dick Cheney won't be influenced by President Bush's statement that the vice president will be cleared.

Pitt, speaking at the National Press Club, was asked whether Bush was sending investigators a "hint" this week with the expression of confidence in Cheney's innocence as head of the No. 2 oilfield-services company. The SEC is investigating the Dallas-based company's accounting of cost overruns on construction jobs.

"Well, if there was a hint, it went over my head," said Pitt, a Republican who was appointed by Bush last year. "No one in this country gets a pass. I don't care what their status is. I don't care what their prestige is."

Pitt focused on SEC efforts to restore investor confidence in the U.S. markets after accounting scandals surfaced at Enron Corp., Arthur Andersen and WorldCom Inc. Pitt said U.S. markets won't rise until culpable chief executives, chief financial officers and accountants are found guilty of fraud and are imprisoned.

"We need real CEOs and real CFOs, real accountants going to jail when they have been guilty of perpetrating a fraud," Pitt said. The SEC can bring only civil charges against companies and executives for violations of securities law. It can refer cases to federal prosecutors, who can bring criminal charges.

Pitt blamed corporations for lying and accounting firms for helping them to cover up. The SEC has filed 122 actions for financial reporting and issuer disclosure violations in the first 10 months of this fiscal year, "20% higher than we filed in all of 2000," Pitt said.

Responding to a question on whether he will resign, Pitt said he wouldn't.

"Losers walk away from their responsibilities," he said. "Winners try to make sure that they fulfill their promises and their oath of office."

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