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GAO says Fox appointment wasn't illegal

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Sam Fox founded and is CEO of Harbour Group, a private company that specializes in the acquisition and development of manufacturing companies.

By AP/KWMU

Washington, DC – A legal opinion says President Bush did not break the law when he recess appointed Sam Fox, of St. Louis, to be U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

Fox is a multimillionaire businessman and GOP fundraiser. The Government Accountability Office says Fox can continue to serve in the diplomatic post but cannot draw a government salary.

Three Democratic senators had asked the GAO to investigate whether Bush acted illegally in making the appointment. Bush withdrew the nomination in March, just minutes before it was up for a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, just a few days later, Bush gave Fox a recess appointment, while Congress was home for the Easter holidays.

Democrats on the committee had been expected to try to defeat the nomination because Fox contributed to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign. The group's TV ads, which claimed that Democratic Sen. John Kerry exaggerated his military record in Vietnam, were viewed as a factor in Kerry's loss to Bush.

In a legal opinion issued June 8, GAO general counsel Gary Kepplinger agreed that Fox cannot earn a government salary because federal law prohibits payment for some recess appointments that could have been filled when the Senate was in session.

The State Department has already conceded that point, and Fox has agreed to work for free. But federal law also prohibits the government from accepting "voluntary services" when the employee's salary is specified by law, as it is for U.S. ambassadors.

The GAO concluded that Fox is not really volunteering, since he is legally prohibited from receiving a salary. Thus, Fox could not file a future claim against the government for compensation, which is what the law was meant to prevent.

Fox's appointment will last through the end of Bush's term in office.

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