WASHINGTON — Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. nominee to head the World Bank, has recruited Robin Cleveland, a senior White House official involved in post-war Iraq planning, as his staff assistant.
His choice, even for a temporary adviser, has drawn comment in Washington, where Ms. Cleveland is seen as a widely experienced policymaker but a somewhat polarizing figure. One staff member at the World Bank described her as a "wild-eyed" conservative whose expertise lay in national security, not development.
Mr. Wolfowitz visits Brussels on Wednesday to meet European Union ministers keen for reassurance about his ambitions for the international development agency. His appointment as World Bank president is expected to be confirmed by the bank's 24 executive directors on Wednesday. The French government is preparing to nominate Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Paris Club chairman, to a proposed new post of deputy to the president at the World Bank, Dow Jones news agency reported Tuesday.
Charley Cooper, special adviser to Mr. Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, said Ms. Cleveland was providing temporary assistance to Mr. Wolfowitz, adding: "They have known each other for more than 20 years and worked on a number of development issues including reconstruction in Afghanistan and the tsunami recovery plan."
But a White House official said Ms. Cleveland, associate director of the White House office of management and budget, had recused herself from all World Bank-related issues at the OMB which suggests her appointment may become permanent. While Ms. Cleveland has been credited with helping President George W. Bush push through massive budgets to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she was also deeply involved in the planning for post-war reconstruction in Iraq.
Before moving to OMB, she served in senior roles on the Senate foreign relations and appropriations committees as a staffer to Mitch McConnell, a Republican Kentucky senator. "There is not an ideological bone in her body but nobody is neutral about her in this town," said one former congressional aide who worked with Ms. Cleveland. "For better or worse, she was one of the great or awful unsung people involved in much of the Iraq effort," the former aide added.
Last year, Ms. Cleveland also became embroiled in the Boeing tanker scandal when the Justice Department investigated allegations of conflict of interest between her and James Roche, the former air force secretary.
In May 2003, Ms. Cleveland sent her brother's resume to Mr. Roche, asking for help finding him a job a Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor. After forwarding the resume to his former employer, Mr. Roche replied: "Be well. Smile. Give tankers (Oops, did I say that? My new deal is terrific.) :) Jim." The Pentagon inspector-general found that Mr. Roche had breached defense department ethics rules, but concluded that it did not have jurisdiction to investigate Ms. Cleveland. The Justice department did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Mr. Wolfowitz has stressed he will come to the bank as an international civil servant, rather than as a U.S. representative, and has pledged to be a listener and consensus-builder. But some within the bank have expressed concern he has been accompanied to meetings with directors and staff, by Ms. Cleveland.
"Wolfowitz may have said the right things about listening and poverty but will he bring an appropriate team?" one Bank staff member asked.
But Tim Rieser, the Democratic clerk on the Senate foreign operations subcommittee, defending the appointment.
"Robin Cleveland is smart, asks good questions, and isn't afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom," he said. "She can be a bit abrasive at times, but she cares deeply about making life better for the world's most vulnerable people and she knows how to get bureaucracies to respond the way they are supposed to."
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