The Cable

Exclusive: Controversial Obama U.N. nominee withdraws for "personal reasons," official says

Jide Zeitlin, the Obama administration's nominee to be America's point man for financial reform at the United Nations, has withdrawn himself from consideration for the job, an administration official tells The Cable.

Zeitlin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and telecom entrepreneur, had faced criticism for his business dealings related to Indian contractors and was also accused of identity fraud for an incident in which he admitted to sending an email to investors masked as coming from one of his competitors. Zeitlin testified before Congress that the email was a prank.

He was approved out of the Senate Foreign Relations committee in November. Just before his hearing, the Washington Post detailed some of his business dealings that have come under scrutiny. For example:

A New Delhi court last month ordered the liquidation of Zeitlin's wireless firm, Independent Mobile Infrastructure Ltd., which stands accused of failing to pay about $2.4 million in supplies, services and interest to a client. The client, Unitech Power Transmission, charged that Zeitlin's company reneged on an agreement to pay for 34 wireless towers as part of a larger deal to construct a network of 137 towers throughout India. The issue is still being litigated, with Zeitlin's firm contesting the liquidation and saying it is financially strong; a hearing is scheduled for March.

The police in Lucknow, India, got involved in the case just after Zeitlin's hearing and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, followed up with Zeitlin about the incident. But Zeitlin denied the allegations and the charges were dropped. Very soon thereafter, the case was settled between IMIL and Shatakshi Contractors, according to settlement documents obtained by The Cable.

Zeitlin was also sued in 2007 by competitor American Tower over an incident where Zeitlin forwarded an article that contained negative information about the company to two of its biggest investors. Zeitlin admitted to using a computer program to make the email seem like it was sent by American Tower CEO James D. Taiclet, Jr.

"This was a joke that clearly fell flat," Zeitlin told the committee about the email.

But concerns about his nomination grew as rumors swirled around Washington and New York that Zeitlin was engaged in other activities that called into question his overall character and also may have included elements of identity fraud.

Specifically, one woman contacted several government offices and multiple news outlets, including The Cable, with allegations that Zeitlin had used deception to lure her into what eventually she claims was a romantic relationship. Those allegations could not be independently confirmed by The Cable. The administration official declined to comment as to whether they had been investigated as part of Zeitlin's vetting process or afterwards.

In his letter, Zeitlin said his withdrawal was due to "personal reasons," the administration official said.

"We appreciate his willingness to serve and wish him the best of luck in the future," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, when contacted about the story.

Zeitlin could not be reached for comment.

The Cable

Special Briefing Skipper: State Department on the underwear bomber

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly held a press conference Monday afternoon at the State Department focused almost exclusively on State's role in the visa process for the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Here are the important parts:

Abdulmutallab received his State Department visa on June 16, 2008. It was good for two years. As for what was the classification under which he applied for a visa, "We don't talk about what's on his application," Kelly said. "You damn well better start talking about it because you're about to have the hammer of God come down on your head," a reporter responded.

As for why the visa was granted, there was no alarming or disqualifying information on the visa application, Kelly said. He was a student at a reputable school and had ample financial resources, meaning he wasn't seen as an illegal immigration risk, according to Kelly.

After Abdulmutallab's father raised concerns with the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria on Nov. 19, the embassy sent what's known as a Visa VIPER cable to the State Department and the counterterrorism community on Nov. 20, but "he information in this VISAS VIPER cable was insufficient for this interagency review process to make a determination that this individual's visa should be revoked," Kelly said.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) would be the one to make that call, not the State Department, Kelly said. "We were obliged to report this information and we reported it." While State was not required to notify in the VIPER cable that he had a visa already and didn't in this case, "Everybody has access to this database, or everybody who wanted to check could see that this individual had a visa," Kelly went on.

Of course, the State Department has the authority to revoke visas, as it did for Honduran officials earlier this year, they didn't do it in for Abdulmutallab "because it's not our responsibility," Kelly said. Shouldn't the fact that he had a visa come up in the VIPER cable? "Clearly, we need to review all of our procedures, and that's what the president has ordered the interagency community to do," Kelly responded.

This was not Abdulmutallab's first visit to the United States. He had been granted and used a visa in the past, Kelly mentioned. No word on whether the Brits had notified the U.S. government that they had decided not to renew his visa for their country.

The VIPER cable itself wasn't too specific and only would include "just a very short characterization of the father's concerns," Kelly said.

The National Security Council is taking the lead on interacting with foreign countries on this issue, Kelly said. As for any more questions about why Abdulmutallab wasn't on the lists that would have prevented him from getting on the plane, "It's not up to me to say," Kelly explained, "It's up to my colleague at the NCTC. And if you don't know the contact information, I can get it for you."

And yes, the State Department does have a seat on the NCTC.