Updated at 5:42 p.m.
The Associated Press is reporting today that a onetime top official in both Bush presidencies is accused of trying to kill his wife at their Connecticut home.
The lawyer, John Michael Farren, was once considered a rising Republican star in Washington, as detailed in a lengthy profile in Legal Times in 1992. (See below.) His wife, Mary Margaret Farren, is a counsel in the Washington office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, according to the Wall Street Journal.
She is stable at a hospital with a broken nose, broken jaw and other injuries, the AP reports. He was ordered held on $2 million bail and is represented by local attorney Eugene Riccio. Click here for a local story from Greenwich Time.
John Michael Farren, also known as J. Michael Farren, was a deputy White House counsel under President George W. Bush. He was undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Commerce Department under President George H.W. Bush and was deputy campaign manager on Bush’s 1992 re-election campaign. He also worked in the Commerce Department under President Ronald Reagan and worked on Bush's 1988 campaign.
“It’s just so sad, and so shocking, and so out of character to anyone who knows or who has worked with Mike,” said Fred Fielding, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who, as counsel to President George W. Bush, was Farren’s boss in the White House.
Prior to joining the White House in 2007, Farren was general counsel and corporate secretary for Xerox Corp. He is on the Board of Advisers of The Aspen Institute, which holds conferences on leadership and public policy.
The full 1992 profile is below.
April 20, 1992
Volume 14; Issue 48
BUSH’S TRADE STRONGMAN
CHIEF PROTECTOR OF AMERICAN BUSINESSES PURSUES TASK WITH POLITICALLY COSTLY ZEAL
By Greg Rushford
Just a few months ago, J. Michael Farren was considered a rising star in the Bush administration. As undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department, Farren was widely rumored to be on the short list to become a top domestic policy adviser at the White House.
But now, due to his energetic role in several highly charged trade issues, Farren’s stock at the White House is falling. “It’s almost as if he was deliberately trying to manufacture unnecessary political controversies,” says one presidential aide.
Farren, whose decisions affect key sectors of the American economy, supervises a small army of bureaucrats who are charged with protecting troubled U.S. companies from unfair trade practices. Farren’s troops administer anti-dumping and countervailing-duty laws, as well as import restrictions affecting steel, semiconductors, machine tools, lumber, and automobiles.
From his $119,300-a-year perch, it’s only natural that Farren, a 39-year-old lawyer and Republican political operative, would draw fire. After all, when the government picks winners and losers, someone’s bound to complain.
Lately, however, Farren has angered not just advocates for foreign companies accused of running afoul of U.S. antidumping laws, but also some influential Bush administration officials and corporate backers.
Last year, for example, Farren--intending to protect the fledgling U.S. flat-panel computer-screen industry--imposed high anti-dumping duties on Japanese computer screens. This caused such powerful U.S. computer companies as the IBM Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., which buy the foreign screens, to protest that Farren may have aimed at the Japanese but hit them, possibly threatening thousands of U.S. jobs.
While that controversy has largely receded from the headlines, other politically charged issues have arisen. As one key presidential aide, who asks not to be quoted by name, inelegantly puts it: “Farren has recently dropped three turds in Bush’s lap.”
Trade Policy’s “Dark Side’
The official notes with chagrin that the three issues he refers to have emerged at precisely the wrong time, considering the president’s election-year point of view. They are:
Farren’s role in the decision to invite the chief executive officers of the Big Three automobile makers to visit Japan last December with President George Bush. The decision blew up into a public-relations nightmare that is still a source of tension between the United States and Japan.
Farren’s apparently deliberate effort to stall President Bush’s decision last December to phase out certain import restrictions on Japan and Taiwan over the next two years. Farren has even been accused by the Hurco Cos. Inc., a leading machine-tool manufacturer from Indiana, of attempting to punish the company for opposing his bid to maintain quotas.
A high-level political row with Canada that was sparked last month when Farren’s unit, the International Trade Administration (ITA), slapped a 14.4-percent duty on allegedly subsidized Canadian softwood lumber entering the United States. Officials at the White House say they have been impressed with Canada’s vigorous protests that it is being unfairly victimized by the ITA.
“What you are seeing in these cases is the darker side of how industrial policy works in practice, where officials who are wizards at gathering bureaucratic power dispense political favors to industry,” says Gary Hufbauer, a visiting fellow at the Institute for International Economics, a D.C.-based think tank.
While Farren’s White House critics, unlike Hufbauer, do not voice in public their complaints about Farren or his office, their private comments are hardly flattering. Four officials who work closely with President Bush on trade matters say they are tired of spending their days trying to resolve controversies that, in their view, should have been handled more deftly by Farren.
The man in the center of the controversy is a Connecticut native and graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law who was brought to the Commerce Department in 1983 by then Secretary Malcolm Baldrige after a two-year stint with the Republican National Committee. He refused to be interviewed for this article.
Farren has his supporters, of course, particularly in the ranks of domestic industries that seek the ITA’s aid in keeping their foreign competition at bay. They dismiss criticisms from free-traders like Hufbauer and like-minded anonymous critics in the administration as evidence that Farren is merely doing his job.
Alan Wolff, a D.C. partner in New York’s Dewey Ballantine who represents the domestic semiconductor and lumber industries, credits Farren with being both dedicated and effective.
“Industries like ours rely on him for survival, and the pressure he gets from those who prefer less aggressive trade policies has got to be enormous,” says Wolff.
Paul Freedenberg, an international-trade consultant in the D.C. office of Houston’s Baker & Botts, who as commerce undersecretary for export administration worked with Farren, also praises him.
“Anyone who gets tough on trade will draw fire,” declares Freedenberg, who recently has lobbied Farren on behalf of the Association for Manufacturing Technology, a domestic industry group that wants to extend machine-tool import restrictions.
Adds Bruce Smart, a senior counselor at the World Resources Institute who was Farren’s boss from 1985 to 1989 at Commerce: “Mike is a very tough negotiator who is probably as knowledgeable about the operations at Commerce as anyone.”
One thing that his critics and supporters agree on is that Farren can be difficult to work with.
“He has a prickly nature, is hot-tempered and stubborn,” says one Washington lawyer who professes to be a Farren admirer but who asks not to be quoted by name.
James Bovard, author of The Fair Trade Fraud and a Farren critic, relates that it once took him two months to obtain copies of public speeches that two of Farren’s deputies had delivered to lobby groups. Farren’s office insisted that Bovard had to request the speeches through Freedom of Information Act procedures.
Despite Farren’s reticence in dealing with the press, he did manage to promote himself within the Bush administration, particularly last fall when the White House was looking for a strong voice on trade matters.
As President Bush prepared for his trip to Tokyo in December, Farren and then Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher urged the White House to get tough with the Japanese and suggested that he take along the heads of the Chrysler Corp., the General Motors Corp., and the Ford Motor Co. After all, automobiles and auto parts account for some three-fourths of the U.S. trade deficit with Japan.
Farren, who had resigned as deputy undersecretary of trade in 1988 to work on George Bush’s presidential campaign, was considered a seasoned political operative capable of giving sound advice.
But the Tokyo trip proved disastrous and, more than any other episode, spawned the stories of White House disarray on trade issues that continue to dog President Bush’s re-election effort--and undermine Farren’s clout inside the administration.
Farren has also been hurt by the battle over machine tools, even though it has been fought mainly behind the scenes. Some White House officials suspect the Commerce official has tried to make an end run around a clear presidential decision.
President Bush announced on Dec. 27, 1991, that voluntary restraint agreements (VRAs) on machine-tool imports from Japan and Taiwan, which went into effect in 1987 and were due to expire at the end of 1991, would be progressively phased out over the next two years.
It was not the decision sought by Farren or the Association for Manufacturing Technology, with which he worked closely. Farren and the U.S. machine-tool advocates had pressed hard for the administration to extend the import restraints for another three to five years.
Now, four months later, Farren has stalled negotiations with the two Asian governments by insisting that most of the “phaseout” will take place in the last half of 1993, thus keeping the VRAs largely intact until the last minute-- perhaps in hope of winning another extension.
Taiwanese diplomats in a stormy February negotiating session in Taipei protested to U.S. trade officials that Farren’s method of staggering the phaseout was unfair and would make it difficult to conduct business.
But Farren, who remained in Washington and in close touch with his aides over the telephone, insisted upon a take-it-or-leave-it stance. The negotiations broke down when he ordered his aides in Taipei to return to Washington without a deal.
And the Taiwanese are not the only ones making angry complaints about Farren’s tough approach. Hurco, the machine-tool company that is widely considered one of the most innovative in the industry, has taken to high White House officials its complaints that Farren has tried to “punish” it.
The thrust of Hurco’s complaints against Farren is contained in an April 3 letter from Brian McLaughlin, the company’s president and chief executive officer, to Brent Scowcroft, assistant to the president for national security affairs.
McLaughlin told Scowcroft how Farren had granted Hurco an exemption from the VRAs with Taiwan in 1987 because otherwise Hurco would not have been able to find adequate suppliers of certain machine-tool components.
But in 1991, Farren suddenly revoked the exemption--suspiciously, at a time when Hurco was lobbying against extending the VRAs beyond that year, McLaughlin wrote. McLaughlin claimed that loss of the exemption had cost his company millions of dollars and had thrown his business into a tailspin as it scrambled to replace its former Taiwanese suppliers.
“We simply cannot continue at this point without a simple exception, quickly implemented,” pleaded McLaughlin, who addressed his complaint to Scowcroft because many of Hurco’s customers are top defense contractors.
McLaughlin’s letter has not yet been answered directly, but Hurco’s Washington advocates say their protests about Farren appear to have produced some weakening of Commerce’s stance against Hurco.
“Hurco is an excellent company, and they are welcome to apply now for another special license,” says a top Farren deputy, who spoke without attribution with his boss’s permission. “I want to go out of my way to point this out.”
As for the complaints that Farren has dragged his feet in implementing President Bush’s machine-tool decision, the official insists, “We intend to get out of the machine-tool business completely by the end of 1993.”
Hurco’s McLaughlin declines comment, saying only that “this is at too sensitive a time for my company, which is trying to survive.”
Hurco’s top D.C. lobbyist, however, says she regards the peace offering--the chance to get another exemption--with a mixture of relief and anger at the process.
“My client has been victimized by industrial policy run amok,” concludes Doral Cooper, who is president of C&M International, a trade subsidiary of D.C.’s Crowell & Moring.
Rowing Over Lumber
Complaints such as Cooper’s are also dogging the White House in the Canadian softwood-lumber case, where Farren’s ITA has accused Canada of subsidizing its lumber industry.
“I’m not saying Canada doesn’t subsidize its lumber folks,” says one White House trade official. “But the problem is that Commerce keeps changing its methodology, apparently just to make sure that however they calculate it, Canada comes out guilty.”
The same point has been made directly to President Bush by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Evidence of the subjectivity of the decision-making was provided in the March 12 Federal Register, which contained the ITA’s 17-page “preliminary determination” to make a case against Canada.
Noting that its investigation was “extraordinarily complicated,” the ITA acknowledged that it has measured alleged Canadian subsidies in different ways over the years. In 1983, the ITA cleared Canada; three years later it found subsidies; and now the agency said it was giving “limited weight” to its previous holdings to find still other subsidies.
“Administrative agencies are free to overturn prior precedent, provided they have a reasonable basis for doing so,” the ITA document concluded.
But what’s “reasonable” to Farren and the ITA looks less reasonable at Bush re-election headquarters, where the concern is more with the political heat on the president from companies hurt by U.S. trade policies.
Already, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association is drumming up a letter-writing campaign from some 9,000 U.S. lumberyards against the duties on Canadian lumber.
“We are pulling out all the stops on this one because the Commerce ruling would be unjust and costly to U.S. consumers,” says Gary Donnelly, the lumber group’s executive vice president.
Moreover, two influential Bush foes in Congress, Reps. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) and Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), are working hard to make the ITA ruling a Bush liability in the upcoming elections.
The irony for Farren is that he was offered a chance to join the Bush campaign and, had he taken it, would no doubt be working to deflect political criticisms stemming from ITA decisions such as the Canadian lumber case.
Copyright 1992 American Lawyer Media, ALM LLC