D'Souza's Petrobras/Export-Import Bank conspiracy theory has an unfortunate run-in with reality

Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS

Appearing on CNN's Parker/Spitzer on October 6, Dinesh D'Souza kept up his disinformation campaign about what role, if any, President Obama had in approving guarantees by the U.S. Export-Import bank to allow U.S. companies to sell machinery to Petrobras, a Brazilian oil and gas company.

ELIOT SPITZER (co-host): In your Forbes article, which was the -- sort of the Cliff Notes version of your book, if I could say so.

D'SOUZA: Well, the preview.

SPITZER: Right. The preview. Your first factual assertion relates to a guarantee that was made by the U.S. Export-Import Bank to permit some U.S. companies to sell machinery to a foreign oil company.

And you used that as the fulcrum for your whole debate. That approval was done by Bush appointees.

D'SOUZA: Well --

SPITZER: All done before Barack Obama was president.

D'SOUZA: That's absolutely not true.

SPITZER: No, it is.

D'SOUZA: We're talking about -- we're talking --

SPITZER: They were appointed by President Bush.

D'SOUZA: No, look, I worked in the White House. We know -- you know how the government works. Federal agencies often have leftover appointees. The Petrobras decision that was made by the Export-Import bank was in April or May of 2009. Obama was the president.

SPITZER: By five Bush appointees.

D'SOUZA: Well, the Bush appointees can propose it. But every federal agency is under the federal government.

SPITZER: Did the Bush appointees approve that?

D'SOUZA: They might have.

For D'Souza's conspiracy theory to work, the Obama administration had to be the one that made this transaction happen, enabling the next shoe to drop in what D'Souza claims is a plot to redistribute U.S. wealth to poorer countries.

In response to a post on this subject on D'Souza's Forbes blog, Kevin Varney, the senior vice-president and chief of staff at the Export-Import Bank of the United States, commented (the comment was verified by a spokesman for the bank):

According to John McAdams, Ex-Im's Senior Vice President for Export Finance (and a Bush political appointee) Petrobras and Ex-Im entered into discussions regarding potential Ex-Im financing for Petrobras with Ex-Im career staff in June, 2008.

After a series of meetings and discussions throughout the fall of 2008 and into 2009, Ex-Im career staff recommended to the Ex-Im Board (comprised entirely of Bush appointees, 3R's, 2D's) that Ex-Im enter into a Preliminary Commitment (PC) with Petrobras to finance U.S. exports to support Petrobras' oil exploration off the coast of Brazil

The subsequent review and approval of the Preliminary Commitment was conducted by Ex-Im career staff and five, Bush appointed, Ex-Im Board members.

Ex-Im is an independent agency. The President does not vote, or "back" Ex-Im transactions. To imply otherwise is to intentionally deceive readers. Of course the President supports the mission and work of Ex-Im but the author's implication that the President specifically "backed" a transaction to further some nefarious personal goal is both false and preposterous. Some quick facts are in order:

Fact 1. This transaction began before Obama was elected. Petrobras and Ex-Im have worked on a wide range of transactions dating back to 2000.

Fact 2. The subsequent review and approval of the Preliminary Commitment for this transaction was conducted by Ex-Im career staff and five, Bush appointed, Ex-Im Board Members.

Fact 3. This transaction was approved by five Ex-Im Board members, all of whom were Bush appointees.

Fact 4. At no time in this process did the President or the White House review, "back" or otherwise engage in this transaction.

Fact 5. The purpose of every Ex-Im transaction is to support U.S. goods and services and by extension U.S. jobs. The assertion that this transaction was done "so that the oil can stay in Brazil" is also false. Petrobras exports oil around the world and any examination of Petrobras financial statements would show that.

The transaction began in June 2008, when Obama was a candidate for the presidency. The review of the transaction was conducted by Ex-Im career staff and five Bush-appointed Ex-Im board members. The transaction was approved by Bush appointed Ex-Im board members. The White House didn't review the transaction.

Yet somehow D'Souza has laid this decision at the feet of the Obama administration. And when confronted on the issue on CNN, D'Souza simply said that "the Bush appointees can propose it" and that "every federal agency is under the federal government," as if this proves his point. This was 18 days after the senior vice president and chief of staff at the Export-Import Bank corrected D'Souza's distortions. On his own blog.

This is, as Eliot Spitzer noted, among the first supposedly factual assertions in D'Souza's book and a linchpin of his entire nonsensical theory. And it is a lie.

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