Ron Brown's Son Learned Nothing
This past week Michael A. Brown (left), former D.C. council member and son of Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, was sentenced to three-plus years in a federal slammer.
Better known for his connections than his smarts, Brown had earlier pled guilty to taking a $55,000 cash bribe from undercover FBI agents. He had obviously not seen “American Hustle” or watched a single episode of “The Sopranos.”
The agents posed as contractors hoping to grease the skids to some city business. For his part, Brown copped to getting caught up in the “culture of corruption running rampant in our city.”
Michael’s father had pioneered that culture. In D.C., as in every large city and state capital in America, there existed—and still does--a wholly gratuitous class of well-connected minority middlemen, none better connected in his day than Ron Brown.
These newly minted entrepreneurs exchanged their race preferences and connections for the rights to distribute other peoples’ products and services.
Even before he ascended to the national stage, Brown came to manage a pointlessly random portfolio of stuff—bonds, burlap bags, insurance, oil contracts, natural gas, pay phones, pension services, radio shows, sludge treatment—without knowing much about any of it.
Like so many others of this spurious class, he added cost but not value and produced nothing. In that this system was fundamentally corrupt to begin with, the trip from the legal side of the deal to the illegal was a short one.
Ron’s knowledge of how the game was played would lead him and Michael to, of all places, Oklahoma. Here, finally Brown would outsmart himself in a scam that quite possibly cost him his life.
Ron, now Commerce Secretary set up an Asian American couple, the Lums, as minority entrepreneurs with a natural gas outfit called Dynamic Energy.
The FBI would have no trouble discovering the quid pro quo. And here, for Ron Brown, was the tragic rub: the quid passed through Michael.
One of the Lums’ first major acts as majority shareholders in Dynamic Energy was to give Michael a 5 percent share in the company worth about $500,000 and a consulting fee of $7,500 per month.
Before his first year on the job was out, Michael would be named the company’s acting president. Like the Lums, all he knew about the business was how to milk it.
When an independent counsel began to close in on the scam, Ron finally began to see how tragically he had misled his life.
Michael was just thirty and the father of twins. Ron loved the boy dearly. He could not bear the thought of Michael going to jail. He knew it would all but kill his wife, Alma.
And he knew finally that he was the one responsible. After all, it was he who had involved Michael in Oklahoma. How to explain that even to himself.
So Ron sought a private meeting with the one person who had, he thought, enough political capital to save his son, President Bill Clinton.
As Ron’s confidante Nolanda Butler Hill tells it, the meeting at the White House family quarters did not go well. The fastidious Brown had to read contempt into Clinton’s odd choice to greet him in his stocking feet.
Still Brown persisted. He told the president to call off the dogs, to shut down the independent counsel, to do whatever had to be done because he was not about to let Michael do jail time.
After Brown had finished, the president told Brown he doubted that he could do anything for him. The die had been cast. The case was out of his hands.
In February 1996, more than a year into his mad scramble to retain the presidency, the president likely calculated the political risk to his re-election chances and ruled against intervention on the spot.
He was not cold about it. He did not want to estrange Brown irrevocably, but he held out little hope.
When Brown did not get the response he wanted from Clinton, he resorted to his ultimate bargaining chip. If he had to, he told Clinton, he was prepared to reveal the president’s treasonous fund raising in China, almost none of which had yet to make the news.
It was on this subject—the president’s ultimate Achilles’ heel—that Hill had been focusing Brown.
Next thing Ron knew he was being dispatched on a pointless trade mission to Croatia to broker a sweetheart deal between the neo-fascists who ran the country and the Enron Corporation.
Ron never came back. He died in a plane crash in Croatia that the Air Force called “inexplicable.”
When the military pathologists found what they said looked like a “looked like a punched-out .45-caliber entrance hole” in the top of Brown’s head, they were not allowed to do an autopsy, look for an exit wound or test for gunshot residue.
Although many in the black community pressed for an autopsy and an investigation, Michael was not among them.
He pled guilty to this one misdemeanor, and had his slate wiped clean. A month and a day after he pled guilty, the press found Michael teeing up with a jaunty President Clinton for the second annual Ronald H. Brown Memorial Golf Tournament.
Young Brown needed a break from his work as international trade and public policy specialist at Patton Boggs and president and CEO of the Ronald H. Brown Memorial Foundation.
Within a few months, Washington insiders would be bruiting his name about as a likely candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia.
Ron Brown had died in vain. Michael was following in his footsteps. The father’s death had taught the son nothing, and last week Michael showed the world just how little he had learned.
About Mega Fix:
In this stunning, surprisingly entertaining, 90-minute DVD video documentary, Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Jack Cashill traces the roots of Sept. 11 to the perfect storm of disinformation that surrounded the Clintons' desperate drive for the White House in the years 1995-1996.
Cashill leads the viewer from Oklahoma City to Dubrovnik, where Ron Brown's plane crashed, to the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia to the destruction of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island to the Olympic Park bombing. Jack Cashill's "Mega Fix" DVD is now available.
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