Eugene Isenberg, Chairman and CEO of Nabors Industries, is smiling in the photo at right but he wasn’t happy when I questioned him at the company’s annual meeting in Houston on Tuesday, June 2.
Isenberg’s controversial $1 million pledge to the so-called Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service at the City College of New York came at a time when Rangel helped preserve a loophole that allowed Nabors to save tens of millions in taxes after moving to the Bahamas. These facts were first reported in the New York Times in an article by David Kocieniewski in late 2008.
Under my questioning, Isenberg again denied any quid pro quo. He also denied that there was any “understanding” or a “wink and a nod.” He would not even concede an appearance problem.
Isenberg was clearly annoyed at my line of inquiry. I had to remind him at one point that “I’m a shareholder, sir. I’m not a subordinate and I’m not a reporter, OK?”
Isenberg said he has paid $400,000 of the pledge and insisted he would pay the rest. He also called the New York Times “full of malarkey,” and challenged the Times’ account a of meeting that he had with Rangel on the same day that the Ways and Means Committee was marking up legislation affecting the loophole.
On Feb. 12 (2007), the day the bill was being marked up by the committee he leads, Mr. Rangel held two discussions at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. First, the congressman sat down for breakfast with Mr. Isenberg and Mr. Morgenthau to further talk about Mr. Isenberg’s support for the Rangel center, Mr. Morgenthau said. Mr. Isenberg said that after breakfast, he escorted Mr. Rangel across the room, where the lobbyist for Nabors, Kenneth J. Kies, was waiting.
Over sweet rolls and coffee, Mr. Kies asked Mr. Rangel if he would maintain his opposition to the efforts to take away the company’s loophole. Mr. Rangel said he would, Mr. Kies and Mr. Isenberg said in interviews.
This week, Isenberg denied that he attended the first meeting:
PETER FLAHERTY: There was apparently a meeting at the Carlyle Hotel between yourself; Mr. Morgenthau, who’s the D.A. up there in New York City; and Charles Rangel, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and you talked about Rangel’s center and your gift. And then you walked …
EUGENE ISENBERG: We did not.
PETER FLAHERTY: You did not? So the New York Times is in error on that point?
EUGENE ISENBERG: In error. Yes.
PETER FLAHERTY: OK. And you walked across the room with Mr. Morgenthau …
EUGENE ISENBERG: I didn’t.
PETER FLAHERTY: You did not? OK. And so there was no second meeting on the other side of the room between you, Ken Kies..
EUGENE ISENBERG: There was a meeting. It wasn’t the second meeting. I was not at the first meeting.
PETER FLAHERTY: You were not at the first meeting? But you were present at the second one – who was there; Mr. Keis and …?
EUGENE ISENBERG: And Congressman Rangel.
PETER FLAHERTY: And Congressman Rangel. And you discussed the legislation that was pending before this committee; in fact, it was being marked up that very day.