Picks and Pans Review: The Power House: Robert Keith Gray and the Selling of Access and Influence in Washington
It is unfortunate that the only part of Trento's thoroughly cogent hook that got national attention was a footnote about an affair President Bush allegedly had with former aide Jennifer Fitzgerald. This is a must-read for any citizen who has ever wondered why Washington works as it does and how power and access are bought and sold.
Nobody knows the game better than Robert Keith Gray, 71, chairman of Hill & Knowlton Worldwide, once the nation's most influential lobbying and public relations firm. Trento chronicles Gray's ascent from a poor boy in Hastings, Nebr., to a popular guest in the most exclusive Georgetown drawing rooms, where, as a vice president of H&K (he'd joined in 1961), he learned that the most important work in town is done after hours over cigars and brandy. Years of skillfully working such parties gave the seasoned bachelor something more valuable than policy expertise: access to the powerful.
It all came together in the early 1980s, when he left H&K, formed his own firm, Gray and Company, and brought in business by touting his tightness with the new Reagan Administration. He cemented those ties by hiring, sometimes even creating, jobs for the wives and children of Administration figures, for example, Ursula Meese (spouse of Attorney General Edwin Meese). At Gray and Company and later back at the helm of H&K (after selling his eponymous PR firm back to H&K in 1986), Gray welcomed nearly every account as long as the client could pay fees into the millions. Those signing on included crooked Teamsters boss Jackie Presser, Haiti's brutal Duvalier regime, the scam bank BCCI and the People's Republic of China after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Most disturbing: H&K's $10 million propaganda campaign on behalf of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait to push the U.S. into war in the Persian Gulf by promoting stories about Iraqi atrocities.
Case by case, Trento shows how special interest groups and the big spenders make sure they get their way. Read it and weep. (St. Martin's, $24.95)