Two years ago G. William Miller appeared for Senate confirmation as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board with a reputation for long public opposition to business bribery in his own country or abroad. As chairman of the distinguished Conference Board he had supported research and other efforts to check corruption in business. As head of the Textron conglomerate he appeared to exemplify the kind of moral and social concern needed to offset the stereotype of ruthless business executives. It is hard to believe that he would deliberately lie to the Senate Banking Committee.
Yet the chairman of that committee, Senator Proxmire, has written to Attorney General Civiletti that "there is every good objective reason to believe that Mr. Miller knew his testimony before this committee in 1978 was false and misleading." Mr. Proxmire calls for a special prosecutor. Mr. Civiletti ought to reconsider his previous decision not to ask for court appointment of such a prosecutor. Reportedly the Justice Department has not yet done the kind of questioning of Textron officials that could help shed light on whether a special prosecutor is demanded.
On the face of it, a special prosecutor seems necessary to clear the air both for Mr. Miller and the public -- not to mention the Carter administration, which has high regard for Mr. Miller in his present post as Treasury Secretary but cannot afford another "Bert, I'm proud of you" episode as in the Bert Lance affair. Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail are beginning to notice a new target of opportunity.
According to sources close to the situation since 1978, much of the turmoil could have been avoided if Textron had complied with regulations to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission the questionable payments abroad which are now again in the spotlight. Other companies did comply, reporting even larger payments, and they have gone about their business. Instead, Mr. Miller was left telling the senators that "my company didn't bribe anyone." Now that the bribery has been exposed in an SEC lawsuit against Textron -- which the company settled without denying or admitting culpability -- the question is whether he knew or should have known what was going on. Mr. Proxmire describes a key situation, involving alleged bribery in Ghana:
"One day after Miller first appeared before this Committee and was requested to inquire into the Ghana matter, Textron destroyed a document which revealed that a bribe was paid to a Ghanaian government official. Senior officials of Textron knew that the Ghanaian bribe had been paid. Miller discussed the Ghana transactions with those officials in connection with his testimony to this committee on the Ghana transaction. I believe Miller had reason to know that a bribe was paid by Textron in Ghana."
With questions like that to be resolved, the Attorney General would have to make a formidable case to remain opposed to a special prosecutor.