When word broke that Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner had failed to pay employment taxes he owed for several years, the reaction in Washington was gentle. Politicians on both sides of the aisle defended Geithner as an excellent choice to head the Treasury in these troubled financial times and predicted that the incident would be little more than a hiccup in his confirmation process. The news media covered the breaking story, but without the hype and round-the-clock stories they've run when nominees hit a snag in the past.
Does this mean that Barack Obama's ascendance to the presidency is ushering in a new era of civility? I hope so. Previous presidents' picks haven't been so lucky. I should know. I was the subject of a media feeding frenzy eight years ago when I was nominated to be George W. Bush's secretary of labor.
Within minutes of my introduction by the president-elect, journalists were poring over every word I'd published and every interview I'd given in the previous 20 years.
Two days later, ABC News broke a story accusing me – erroneously -- of hiring an illegal nanny. Soon, TV satellite trucks surrounded my house and investigative reporters began scouring my neighborhood.
I decided to step down when it became clear after three days of non-stop coverage that I was becoming a major distraction for the new president. But I also wanted the opportunity to set the record straight: A decade earlier, at the urging of a friend, I had taken into my home an illegal immigrant who had no other place to live, given her financial and other assistance, and later helped her return to her native country. I didn't break any laws, though I did exercise bad judgment in not telling the president-elect's team in the vetting process what had occurred 10 years earlier.
Geithner has also been accused of employing an illegal immigrant. But the facts suggest he, too, is innocent of wrongdoing on that count. He hired the woman when she had a valid visa -- and, presumably, the requisite status to allow her to work in the U.S. -- but her authorization lapsed for a few months before she left his employ. By law, he was only required to check legal status when he hired the woman, so he should be off the hook on this issue.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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