Stephen Payne, a longtime Bush associate who was revealed to be selling access to top Bush administration officials in return for contributions to the Bush library, is now under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Payne currently serves on the Homeland Security Advisory Council. A spokesman for DHS called the revelations a “horribly unfortunate story” and said the Department is currently “looking into the facts.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has initiated his own investigation. “If true, this raises serious concerns about the ways in which foreign interests might be secretly influencing large donations to the library,” Waxman wrote in a letter to Payne.
Additionally, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is urging the Justice Department to begin an “investigation into whether…Payne violated any criminal laws.” Yesterday, CREW explained the legal basis for a criminal investigation of Payne and his relationship with the White House:
Federal law prohibits public officials from directly or indirectly demanding, seeking, receiving, accepting, or agreeing to receive or accept anything of value in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act. If Mr. Payne was authorized by any member of the Bush administration to trade meetings with top level officials in return for financial contributions to the Bush library, those officials may have violated the bribery statute. Similarly, by offering to serve as a conduit to deliver contributions to the Bush library in exchange for meetings with administration officials, Mr. Payne may have violated federal law.
While Payne has admitted that his actions could be “perceived to be bribery,” he insists they are legal. Both Payne and the Bush administration deny that he had “top-level access” to the White House. Noting the six-figure sums Payne solicited, CREW executive director, Melanie Sloan said, “He wouldn’t get paid that way if he couldn’t deliver.”
The public record demonstrates clearly that Payne did, in fact, have “top-level access,” as he has been photographed on several occasions working and relaxing with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and foreign leaders, and has served Bush in a number of capacities on campaigns and in the executive branch. As ThinkProgress noted yesterday, any “perceptions” of impropriety on the part of Payne and Bush administration officials could be up by giving the public access to the White House visitor logs.