BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Kurt Eichenwald, what is the brief synopsis of "The Informant"?
Mr. KURT EICHENWALD (Author, "The Informant: A True Story"): "The Informant" is about the highest-ranking corporate executive who ever worked as a cooperating witness with the FBI, who was producing evidence of an international price-fixing conspiracy at a company called Archer Daniels Midland, on one level.
On the second level, it's the story of how that individual, during the entire time he was working with the government and working as a senior officer at the company, was simultaneously losing his mind. And, ultimately, that sends the case spinning out of control in ways that, even while I was going through it, even while I was living through it as a reporter, were pretty hard to believe.
LAMB: Do you remember the first time this story came to your desk?
Mr. EICHENWALD: I--it was interesting. The first time the story came up was--there had been raids by the FBI on five companies, and it had really not attracted a lot of attention. Then there was an article in The Wall Street Journal that revealed that the cooperating witness was this very senior-ranking executive at ADM, and that was tantalizing because, I mean, ADM, particularly to people in Washington, is known as an exceptionally powerful, exceptionally secretive company. The idea that somebody was out there recording everyone inside without their knowledge was--was certainly tempting.
But, for me, the--the moment where I really decided I had to be in on this story--because at the time it was breaking, I was actually out of town--I was in the Houston Hobby Airport. I remember th--with great detail, walking--walking to my--to my plane to Dallas, and there was a magazine stand that had the cover of Fortune magazine with this gentleman's picture, this cooperating witness, Mark Whitacre. His picture was on the cover and the words `My life as a mole with the FBI.' And I literally stopped and said `No!' out loud and walked over and bought the magazine because, I mean, I write about criminal investigations for a living, and this was the first time I had ever seen, six weeks after the raid, the cooperating witness stepping forward and basically being, you know, a cover boy for an article where he spilled the secrets of what was going on in the investigation.
And I read the article on the way from Houston to Dallas several times, and by the time I landed, called my--my--decided that that was it; this was a case that was unlike any other, largely because the witness was doing what he was doing. And I called my boss at The New York Times and said, `If nobody else wants to do this story, I would really love to do it.' And that...
LAMB: Where were you based?
Mr. EICHENWALD: I was based in New York. I was based in New York. And it wasn't--it was when I got back I picked up the story.
LAMB: What year was this?
Mr. EICHENWALD: This was 1995; it was August of '95. And I ultimately met with Mark Whitacre, who is the informant of the book title, in September.
LAMB: Where is Mark Whitacre today?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Mark Whitacre is currently serving a 10 1/2-year pres--prison sentence in--in South Carolina--in a federal--at a feder--federal prison camp in South Carolina.
LAMB: When did he go into prison?
Mr. EICHENWALD: He went to prison in 1998. He is expected to come out in--or at least under his sentence, he will come out in 2008. And he--he was a person who, you know, at first, everybody thought he was going to be the hero, and then it ended up that the whole time he was working for the FBI, he was also stealing millions of dollars from the very company they were investigating, laundering the money in Swiss and Cayman Islands bank accounts.
LAMB: Who's Dwayne Andreas?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Dwayne Andreas is a giant on the political and international landscape. He is a fellow who most Americans probably haven't heard of, but most politicians probably can never forget. This is a fellow who--whenever they're talking about campaign finance reform, you're always going to hear the name Dwayne Andreas coming up. He, dating back to the--the time of Thomas Dewey, has been a--a major contributor to both political parties. Every White House occupant, going back to at least Kennedy, has been a close associate of Dwayne Andreas.
And he has had an enormous impact on the laws of this country, as they've--as they've been shaped. He is--he is--his voice has been heard, and there's not a year that goes by where they don't debate such standards as adding ethanol to gasoline, where the-the biggest--the biggest benefit for that rule is the Archer Daniels Midland Company. And there are people who say flat-out, you know, `We are giving ADM, we are giving Dwayne Andreas billions of dollars a year.' But it's--it's--his--his level of influ--his level of influence is virtually unprecedented.
LAMB: There's a--an allusion in your book to Bob Dole and Bob Strauss and Dwayne Andreas and David Brinkley, all getting together at a certain place in Florida.
Mr. EICHENWALD: The Sea View Hotel, which is owned by Dwayne Andreas. He--he gained control of it many years ago and became something of a--for lack of a better term, a local realtor for the politically powerful and started finding apartments, helping people get inside deals on apartments for his--for his friends among the powerful in Washington, both in the political sphere, like Bob Dole, like Bob Strauss, and in the journalistic sphere, like David Brinkley.
LAMB: And David Brinkley does those ads for ADM that are seen on the morning shows, on--on Sunday morning. What's that all about?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, ADM--if anybody's heard of them outside of Washington, it's usually in watching the programs that are most viewed in Washington. "This Week with David Brinkley" was sponsored by ADM for many, many years. They purposefully advertise on the programs that are tar--that are--that are--that are very widely watched among the people in the halls of power in Washington. And so after innumerable years of sponsoring "This Week with David Brinkley," David Brinkley retired and became a spokesman for ADM.
LAMB: Where is Dwayne Andreas today?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Dwayne Andreas continues to reside in Decatur, Illinois, where he is chairman-emeritus of ADM and plays--he was just recently re-elected to the board of directors--plays a role in the-in the operations of the company.
LAMB: How old is he?
Mr. EICHENWALD: He's in his 80s. He is--he is a man who is winding down significantly.
LAMB: Mick Andreas?
Mr. EICHENWALD: The son. Mick Andreas was born to power. His godfather was Hubert Humphrey, also a very good friend of--of Dwayne. And Mick had always been destined to be his father's successor, the--the man who would take the throne, the man who would gain control of this corporate and political behemoth, and ultimately, got tripped up and caught in--in the--the tapings that took place at the company and was recorded engaging in both criminal conspiracies as well as actions that would certainly cause any member of a board of directors to--to wince and perhaps suggest a--a resignation: discussions of-of female executives, blatantly sexist discussions. And Mick is now serving a three-year prison sentence, which began sometime earlier last--this year.
LAMB: You say a couple of times in your book that there's a big statue of Ronald Reagan outside the ADM plant in Decatur. How'd that get there?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Reagan came for a visit to Decatur in 1984, and Dwayne Andreas decided it would be a wonderful idea to, basically, build a monument to this visit, basically, you know, solidifying his very close relationship with Reagan. Reagan had been--had been raised in Dixon, Illinois, which, really, is a town not much unlike Decatur. And so Dwayne Andreas liked to--liked to talk about how, you know, the president and he were just, you know, boys from the Midwest. And-and when he came out to Decatur, they--they built this multiton statue to Reagan, which stands to this day. I mean, the--the visit from Reagan was one of the biggest things that hit Decatur, in terms of famous people, until Gorbachev came to visit Dwayne Andreas a few years later.
LAMB: You mentioned Sea View, Florida and Decatur, Illinois, but there's also several mentions of a Manhattan apartment for Dwayne Andreas.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes. I mean, Dwayne--Dwayne is not--you know, he lives in Decatur, Illinois, but he's not a hick. I mean, this is a guy who has an enormous amount of power, an enormous amount of money, and he has--he has homes in multiple locations. The--the--the home in--in Manhattan is a reflection of the fact that they're--they're here a lot. I'm sorry, I'm not in Manhattan--that they're in Manhattan a lot. And so he--he jets between Manhattan and Florida and Decatur.
LAMB: How long has he been with ADM?
Mr. EICHENWALD: He joined ADM--he--he was brought into ADM in the late 1960s when the company was--was really starting to fall apart. They weren't able to pay their dividend, they weren't able to-to report numbers that would make their shareholders happy, and somebody came up with the great idea that, `Well, there's this fellow, Dwayne Andreas'--who, at that point, was already a giant in the agricultural industry--`and he has a lot of influence. He knows a lot of people. He's friends with Humphrey, he's friends with Dewey, he's friends with Ken--well, he's frie--he's fri--has a lot of friends in the White House. Has--always has. Why don't we bring him in?'
And so a large block of shares were sold to Dwayne Andreas. He was placed on the board, and in no time he was the chairman, and he moved the company from its operations, which were then in Minnesota, to Decatur, Illinois.
LAMB: What does ADM do?
Mr. EICHENWALD: ADM is a company that all of us do business with every day of the week, whether we know it or want to or not. They make--if you pick up any packaged foods and you turn to the ingredients, you'll look at those extremely hard-to-pronounce items on each--on each description. Those are made by ADM, a lot of them. ADM takes farm staples--wheat, soybeans, corn--crushes them up and then strips out every last ingredient they can think of.
In the way the company worked up until the late 1980s, it was purely a--a crusher. It would--it would crush corn, it would crush all of these staples. And they would make things like citric acid, which you'll find in soda pop--you know, Coke, Pepsi, 7-Up. They'd make wheat flour. They'd make sodium gluconate. They make all of these little ingredients, so you end up finding their food in, you know, everything from pepperoni to Popsicles.
You know, you have even--what I've always found amazing is, you know, babies that are having soy formula, well, they're drinking ADM products, and once they graduate to Gerber food, well, guess what? They still are. It's sort--sort of, you know, Americans get raised on a taste of ADM.
In the late 1980s, they decided that the future of this business was in a form of bioengineering, not creating a new food, but using bacteria with specific jobs to create other ingredients, and the first one they went into is something called lysine, which is used to fatten up pigs and chickens by adding it to their feed. And that requires a particular bacteria, which goes into a gigantic fermenter. You feed them corn dextrose, or at least ADM feeds them corn dextrose, and the bacteria ultimately converts that dextrose into--into lysine, which is then packaged and sold to the farmers and goes to the chickens, and we ultimately pay for it ourselves when we buy our Chicken McNuggets.
LAMB: How big of gross business do they do every year?
Mr. EICHENWALD: It's a $20 billion a year business.
LAMB: How many employees?
Mr. EICHENWALD: I don't know, but I know it numbers into the thousands.
LAMB: How many plants around the world?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Their--their plants are everywhere. I mean, the--the exact number, I don't know. That's the kind of question that I would turn to their SEC filings and look up. But they are in Asia, they are in Europe, they are in America, they're in Latin America. They--the--the plants are just hundreds.
LAMB: Where is Decatur, Illinois, located?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Decatur--Decatur's smack dab in the middle of the country. It's--it's pretty hard to get any more middle of the country than Decatur. And it's a town that is really a reflection of the companies that are there. I mean--what's interesting, it's a town that's had a lot of problems in recent years because you had the ADM price-fixing scandal followed very quickly by some issues that--in the local schools, some racial issues that brought the Reverend Jesse Jackson into town. And immediately after that, you had the Firestone problems with the recall from the tires, and everybody said, `Well, didn't those tires all come from that plant in Decatur, Illinois?
So this is--this is a town that's--that's been hit by--by s-national scandal after national scandal. It's ki--and it's kind of hard. I mean, I--I've talked to a lot of people in Decatur. It's kind of hard on them because, you know, it's--it's still largely a blue-collar and agricultural community, and, you know, suddenly, the--the--the-the cameras of the world are focused on them, and it keeps happening again and again and again. They're sort of a little perplexed.
LAMB: How many times have you been there?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Over the last five years, I've--I've certainly lost count. I've been there a number of times. There's actually this whole corridor right--right around Decatur--Springfield, Champagne and Urbana--where a lot of these events took place. I mean, the FBI was in Ur--was in Champagne and Springfield and Decatur. The courthouse was in Urbana. And so there's a lot of driving on Interstate 72. It's a very--it's a very long, open drive where you see cornfields, soybean, you know, depending on the time of year. And it's a--it's a drive I got very used to, put it that way.
LAMB: Where are you from originally?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, I was raised in Dallas, Texas, and now I-I live outside of New York City.
LAMB: And where'd you go to college?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.
LAMB: How long have you been with The New York Times?
Mr. EICHENWALD: For 16 years.
LAMB: What got you interested in writing?
Mr. EICHENWALD: It's interesting, what got me interested in writing was--r--it'll sound cliche--writing for the school paper. But the--the--the biggest thing that got me interested in writing was how boring I thought the school paper was. I remember I--I had just written some article about parents' night, which I thought was probably the most boring thing in the world, and was talking to a teacher, Mike Shepherd, who--then I said, `Gee, I really want to write things that are more interesting.' And he said, `So why don't you?'
And he--under his encouragement, I went off and wrote an article about Laetrile for the school paper. I thought, `Well, that was kind of interesting,' and that started me down a path of just writing about topics that appealed to me. And, ultimately, you know, I--I realized you really can--as a writer, you can look at anything, you can do anything. You can--if you decide you're interested in politics, well, the reporting for politics is the same as the reporting for a scandal or reporting of a feature story. You know, just--you just have to apply it. And so I started eventually--at The Times, I started jumping around from topic to topic of just things that caught my fancy.
LAMB: Bob Strauss--how does he relate to the ADM corporation?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, Bob Strauss, starting in about the late 1960s when he and Dwayne Andreas went to the same fund-raiser for Lloyd Bentsen, a senator from Texas--Bob Strauss and Dwayne Andreas had been best of friends. They speak by phone all the time. And Dwayne ultimately had him nominated and he was approved to be a member of the board of directors of ADM. In the course of this investigation, which was almost Shakespearean--I mean, you had the chairman father of-of immense power standing by as his son is--is subject to a criminal investigation, you know, the son who he has chosen to be his successor--Bob Strauss played a very important, behind-the-scenes role, which is kind of Bob Strauss' way of doing business, basically in terms of smoothing the way toward a--a settlement between ADM and the government.
There--there was a faction within ADM that--that wanted to fight this case to the death. They had--they had a lot of good reason. I mean, you know, when they--when they looked at the case, you had the informant, the cooperating witness, Mark Whitacre, had blown up. I mean, he had--he had been found to be stealing millions of dollars. He was under criminal investigation himself. There was a possibility--farfetched, but a possibility--that the government might not even be able to introduce the audio and videotapes of the criminal activity in ADM--they might not be able to introduce it in a court.
And so there was a faction within ADM that wanted to fight this to the end. It was a--a foolish approach because, ultimately, everybody else who was in the room--you know, ADM did not conspire with--with Mark Whitacre; they conspired with Japanese corporations and European executives and Korean executives. And the government went and cut deals with them, and their testimony was used to get the tapes introduced. ADM, by that time, had cut its own deal, having seen the light, I suppose. But Mick Andreas and one of his colleagues who was also charged, Terry Wilson, did not. They went to trial and were ultimately convicted.
LAMB: T--Terry Wilson and Mick Andreas are in prison where?
Mr. EICHENWALD: They're both in minimum-security prisons, which, for the life of me, I've forgotten the name of. But they--they--they--they are in--in the--in the camps.
LAMB: I--I remember reading a story about when they were resentenced by a judge, because they didn't get enough of a sentence, they were going to be sent to Wisconsin somewhere. Have you met either one of these gentlemen?
Mr. EICHENWALD: I have to be careful how I answer those questions. I have certainly met them in the context of a trial, so I have, you know, publicly seen them and talked to them.
LAMB: Why do you have to be careful?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, one of the things about being an investigative reporter is you make a lot of promises, promises to people about--about who you're going to tell that--what they're saying or whether they spoke to you at all. A problem with that deal is if somebody speaks to me or doesn't speak to me, I really can't say because, you know, if you ask me, `What about Person A,' and I say, `Well, I didn't speak to him, and you ask, `Well, what about Person B,' well, I can't answer that question. You know, I've just given it away.
And so the rule that I always live by is if I haven't, for some other reason, revealed that I've had discussions with this person, or if those discussions did not take place in a public place, I just tend not to answer it and say I--I really can't discuss sources of information or--or meetings or whatever. And--and it's very important because, ultimately, you know, I'm--I'm nothing more than what-what information I'm able to get, and there have been many a long night with--with corporate insiders, whistle-blowers and the rest, you know, in their homes, in parked cars, talking to them about protecting their identity, talking to them about greater truths, and talking to them about--about why I can be trusted. And that--this is sort of the ultimate payoff of that deal. That is the--that is the--that is the obligation that I undertake every time I do one of these stories.
LAMB: You--you say in here that you had 100 interviews and 800 hours of interviews. Did--Mick Andreas, who was going to be the chairman of the board of ADM--what impact did this have on him that you know of, personally?
Mr. EICHENWALD: On him--on his personal life?
LAMB: Other than the fact that he's in prison, I mean, what--what was his reaction to getting caught and getting indicted and getting convicted?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, it was interesting. Getting caught for--it--once you view the tapes, once you see what--what Mick did, it is impossible not to walk away and say not only is this guy a crook, not only is this guy engaged in a scheme to defraud everyone around this country, but given his personal traits, given-given the--the--the clearly sexist attitudes he has, that in a modern corporation, he's really--he's really not fit to be a senior executive.
Mick apparently didn't see it that way. From--from his perspective, he was someone who had been trapped--entrapped by--by Mark Whitacre; that he was somebody who had been manipulated into a situation; that he was not involved in any illegal activities, and as far as he was concerned, everything he was doing was perfectly proper. Now, I mean, you--you look at the tapes, and that's just simply laughable, but Mick Andreas--you know, his marriage has survived, his family stands by him.
LAMB: How much money is he left with?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Quite a bit; tens of millions of dollars. He...
LAMB: How about Terry Wilson?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Terry Wilson--Terry Wilson ultimately is the man who went down in flames for the Andreas family. He, at any point, could have cut a deal. He was the--he was the guy they had on tape more than anyone else. He was the guy who would sit there saying some of the juiciest, you know, conspiracy quotes of all. You know, `Watch your telephones,' and, `The competitors are our friends, and the customers are our enemies.'
And the prosecutors, when the case started falling apart, were hungry, eager to make a deal with Terry Wilson, but he wouldn't do it. From his perspective, he had a moral obligation to the Andreas family. He was a man who had--he had some personal family problems that the Andreases had helped him with over the years, and he just made this commitment that he's not going to turn on Mick.
LAMB: Any evidence at all that Dwayne Andreas knew what his son was doing?
Mr. EICHENWALD: The government chose not to bring charges, and there certainly was not enough evidence to support a charge based on the reviews of the information that I saw. You do, however, have to wonder. You know, this was not an activity at ADM that was a quiet secret. This was not something where they were--they were fixing prices on lysine and nowhere else.
Mr. EICHENWALD: They were involved it in lysine, they were involved in it in citric acid, they were involved in it in--in-certainly there's evidence they were involved in it in MSG. There were--certainly there was evidence they were involved in it in sodium gluconate. There are tapes that support it. And you really have to stand back and wonder, `Where did all this start, and how could all this be going on without the explicit or implicit knowledge of the chairman?' Now I can't, obviously, conclude one way or the other, but you certainly are in a situation where if he didn't know, it's almost as bad as if he did because it was going on everywhere.
LAMB: How does Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada, relate to this story?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Brian Mulroney is also a friend of Dwayne Andreas. It's--this is going to be a--a frequent response. Brian Mulroney was named as the chairman--I'm s--was--was named to the ADM board of directors and was named as co-chairman of the Special Committee of Directors, who were charged with settling this case, investigating this case, basically handling the case for the company. And he was a man in a very complex situation because, you know, as I was saying, the evidence was overwhelming, yet he was a very close confidante of Dwayne Andreas. And you're talking about the chairman's son was going to go to jail. So he--he was--he was definitely walking through a very complex maze.
LAMB: Ross Johnson.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Ross Johnson, man made famous by the book "Barbarians at the Gate," the former chairman of RJR Nabisco--the book and movie "Barbarians at the Gate." And he was named as an ADM director. He was a member of the Special Committee, and he also played a role in the ultimate outcome.
LAMB: Now go back to what we were talking about, politics, earlier. There's a little vignette you have in your book about a man named Howard Buffett and Dick Durbin. Now you found the Dick Durbin part of this, and I'm--I'm not s--has it ever been acknowledged that it was him to you?
Mr. EICHENWALD: W--now we're talking about the football game?
LAMB: The football tickets.
Mr. EICHENWALD: The--the--there was an acknowledgement--I--I believe it says in the book there was an acknowledgement that they went to the game, but there was not an acknowledgement that they solicited tickets. And th--and that section is--what--basically, what the story is, is that--is that Howard Buffett, who is the son of Warren Buffett--I mean, this book really is an all-star cast.
LAMB: Who's Warren Buffett?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Warren Buffett is the--the famed investor, whose--whose biographies are snapped up by everyone trying to figure out how Berkshire Hathaway made all its billions. He's the man who, probably more than anyone else--I think at this point, he's either the wealthiest man or the second wealthiest man, but probably more than anyone else is--is the sage of--of modern investing. And his son, Howard, was assistant to the chairman, Dwayne Andreas.
And in this story, in this event that takes place in the book, there was a--there was a--a point where they were discussing going to a Chicago Bears game, Dick Durbin and Howard Buffett. Now whether a request was actually made or not is not quite clear. It is clear that there was a belief that a request was made. And ADM and Howard Buffett was--was--was warned by a secretary, `Well, this--this this kind of thing, you know, might--might violate some--some ethics rules.'
And so they went and had a lawyer look into it, and--and the lawyer came back and said, `Well, it's fine as long as the congressman pays for half of it.' And Buffett called Durbin and said, you know, `You're really--you're going to have to pay for half of it.' And Durbin was apparently very gracious and said, you know, `Thank you very much.' It was not an issue for him. He wasn't--apparently he wasn't trying to get free tickets. But Dwayne Andreas had a--a different reaction.
LAMB: I've got the quote here on the page.
Mr. EICHENWALD: OK.
LAMB: `Howard,' talking to Howard Buffett, `Andreas said sharply'--that's Dwayne Andreas--`you're useless to ADM if you have to ask for an attorney's opinion every time you get a request.' And earlier he said, `If a congressman asks you to do something, you do it. Andreas snapped, `If there's something wrong with it, that's his problem.' Now how do you find that kind of quote? Where do you get that kind of a quote?
Mr. EICHENWALD: That quote originally is referenced in-Howard Buffett was interviewed a couple of times by the FBI, and whenever an FBI agent interviews a witness, they take notes, which are ultimately transcribed into a document called a 302. Now in the course of the reporting for this book, I obtained virtually all of the 302s that were--that were collected, both for the antitrust investigation and the subsequent fraud investigation. Buffett's interviews were part of the antitrust investigation. And he, very early on, within the first week of--of--after the raids, sat down with the FBI two times. And in--I--I think that story comes from the second time, and he retold that story and--and quoted that material. So that--that was the original source material for that story.
LAMB: Howard Buffett, throughout your whole book, sounds unhappy. And is he still there?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Howard Buffett resigned, basically within days of his second FBI interview. He--he was uncomfortable with the way things were going at ADM, and what was odd is that Whitacre--you know, as I mentioned, Whitacre was an individual who, in the course of this whole thing, was--was losing his mind. Whitacre had, prior to the raids, notified a number of people inside ADM that the FBI was investigating the company; that he was working as a cooperating witness; that--that they were going to be visited on June 27th, 1995, he told Howard Buffett, at 6:00.
And Buffett didn't quite know what to make of this when he was told it, you know? So I've heard this story he went out and, you know, rode on his tractor, going, you know, `What do you--what do you do?' This is a Midwest response, I guess. `What do you do when you-when you're in this position?' How does he know if Whitacre's telling the truth? And at 6:00 on June 27th, the moment of truth came. The doorbell rang. The door is opened. There's an FBI agent, you know, just as told. And Whitacre was telling a lot of information about the investigation, and Buffett became increasingly uncomfortable with what he was hearing and decided to resign.
LAMB: G--how big a deal is this? I mean, put it into perspective for people that may have not paid any attention to this story. And the fine--how much was ADM fined?
Mr. EICHENWALD: ADM's fine was $100 million, but you have to bear in mind that is a--that's a deal. It was a deal because ADM offered up evidence against other corporations involved in another price-fixing conspiracy, and so they were given a break. You know, it's a plea bargain. So ultimately, how big a deal this is, in the antitrust perspective, it's the biggest there is. ADM, at that point, was the largest fine ever imposed in--in a price-fixing case.
Now where this gets more important--I mean, I write about corporate crime for a living, and I have, you know, pick of the litter of what I want to choose. I can write about health-care fraud, I can write about antitrust, I could write about virtually anything. This is the one I chose for a book for a couple of reasons: One, the story in and of itself is--is so bizarre as to border on the surreal at times; and two, because when you get right down to it, this was the biggest white-collar conspiracy ever exposed by the federal government. You know, when--you--you have to look at not just what happened to ADM, but what happened to all the dominos, what happened to all the conspirators. The Japanese companies cut deals and named ADM. ADM cut a deal and named the European companies in the citric conspiracy. You know, they name others, and the dominos keep falling and falling and falling.
In the last four years, you started off with ADM paying $100 million. You've now had I believe it's Hoffmann-La Roche pay $1/2 billion. And each domino is knocking over somebody else. Is--it's--it's the interesting thing about price fixing. If you're actually going to be the kind of person who price-fixes, you're not going to say, `Well, only in this product.' You know, `We're not--we're not going to do it in our other products.' Well, what's interesting is you have different competitors in each--in each product line. So if you were price-fixing in product A and they nail you with tapes, well, you can now go in turn and name everybody you're doing bu--you're doing illegal business with in product B, who have the same situation.
And so, at this point, there are some 30 grand juries looking into price-fixing in the feed and--and in the food additives business, who are digging up an enormous amount of information.
LAMB: A couple of other small--not small things for the people, but just to connect the--the dots here. Anne Bingaman, the wife of Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico--what role does she play?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Anne Bingaman was the head of the antitrust division throughout most of these events. She--she was the person who supervised the antitrust division starting in Washington and going down to the Chicago field office. And ultimately, she's also the person--there--there--there are quite a number of power plays that go on in this book, and one of them is there's a dispute between the local US attorney in Springfield and the antitrust division about when to do the raids, how to go forward, how to handle this. And so there are negotiations, which the Springfield US attorney walks away from thinking, `Now the case is ours.' And this sets off a firestorm at the antitrust division. I mean, this is the biggest case they've ever had, and now they've turned it over to Springfield?
And there is ultimately a--a conference call with quite a number of people on it, where the Springfield US attorney reminds Anne Bingaman, `Anne, remember, we agreed I'd have the case.' And Bingaman comes back with a series of statements that melted phones all over the country about, you know, `I am the assistant attorney general in charge of antitrust. I have been appointed by the president of the United States. I am here to make sure that we aggressively enforce these laws, and it will be over my dead, kicking, screaming body that you get this case.' And that was the end of it for the Springfield US attorney.
LAMB: By the way, is the John R. Block on the board the former Agriculture secretary?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Under a Republican administration.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes. John Block himself is a former farmer, who was then secretary of the--secretary of Agriculture, who--he was named to the board after these events really blew up, after the price-fixing case was known, and so, you know, hi--his involvement was--was-was virtually nil. But...
LAMB: You also talk a little bit about Allen Andreas. Who is he, and what role did he play?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Allen Andreas plays a--a--to me, what is a fascinating role. I'm--I'm--I'm somebody who loves irony and-and circles. And at the very beginning of the book, Allen was working in 1992 as a--as a--an executive in the London offices of ADM, and there was this bizarre story that emerged from Decatur. Whitacre came in saying that he had received a telephone call from a Japanese executive saying that a Japanese company had been sabotaging ADM's lysene plan. And this Japanese executive, Whitacre said, had told him that he would reveal the identity of the saboteur and provide these superbugs from Japan that could resist the virus that was u--being used for the sabotage if he was paid $10 million in a Swiss bank account.
Well, ultimately, the Andreases, both Mick and Dwayne, decide that, you know, `This is not something to take lying down,' and they call Allen.
LAMB: Now wait a minute. Just a second. Dwayne Andreas is the chairman...
Mr. EICHENWALD: Dwayne is the chairman.
LAMB: ...the--the older of all the Andreases. His son, Mick, is the vice chairman.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes.
LAMB: And Allen is what relationship?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Allen is Dwayne's nephew, Mick's cousin.
LAMB: Through--What?--Dwayne Andreas' sister or brother, or do you know?
Mr. EICHENWALD: I'm--I'm actually--I actually don't remember. I--I--I think it's a brother, but I'm not sure.
Mr. EICHENWALD: And Allen has something else that makes him beneficial; he has some particularly close contacts with the CIA. And so they call Allen in London in this bizarre phone call that's described in the book.
LAMB: The Andreases.
Mr. EICHENWALD: The Andreases. First--first, Dwayne calls and says something like, `You're going'--you know, `Do you still have your friends in London?' and this sort of code conversation going back and forth. And ultimately, Mick calls and lays out the story of the saboteur, lays out the story of--of this individual, this Japanese executive, who Whitacre was calling Fujiwara. And...
LAMB: Made--made it up?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yeah. The whole story was ma--yeah, that's the-the punch line of all this is that the whole--the whole story of the Japanese executive is fiction.
LAMB: Fujiwara didn't exist?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Fuji--well, Fujiwara was a real guy, but he never made this--he never made this phone call.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Whitacre had just made it up. And so he tells-Mick tells--Mick Andreas tells Allen Andreas, in London, about this, you know, sinister Fujiwara phone call that he'd heard about, and Allen goes to the CIA and says, `Help us.' The CIA, in turn, refers it--because it's a--it's a criminal matter, it's a law enforcement matter. It's a--it's a--it's an extortion plot, essentially. And they refer it to the FBI back in the United States.
So in no time, in a couple of--couple of days actually, af-after the--the phone call to the CIA, the FBI shows up in Decatur saying, `What's this about a saboteur?' And like you said, it's--what's so ironic about the whole thing is that, ultimately, the whole saboteur story is a phony. It never happened. And then the final irony is this sets in motion the events that lead to the criminal investigation of ADM, that lead to the criminal inv--investigation of Mick Andreas, that knock Mick Andreas out of his position as heir-apparent to take over the company, and in his place is selected Allen Andreas. So it's sort of--it's sort of this...
LAMB: He's now chairman of the board?
Mr. EICHENWALD: He is now chairman of the Archer Daniels Midland Company.
LAMB: Go back to ground zero again on this. First of all, what is price-fixing, and why is it a crime?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Price-fixing is--the--the easiest way to say it is t--in my mind, it's a betrayal of capitalism. The whole concept of capitalism is that you have a bunch of companies out in the free market competing for your business, and they'll either offer the best product or the best price. That then is supposed to reward the most efficient and the most--th--you know, th--those that do the job the best. When you have price-fixing, that doesn't happen. The power of the consumer is dead because, rather than them competing head to head trying to get your business, they just say, `Forget him. Let's sit down and decide what we're going to charge.'
LAMB: Isn't there a famous quote you've got in here that the-about the competitors and the consumers?
Mr. EICHENWALD: That--that--this is, yeah, the ADM quote; that, `The--the--the competitors are our friends, and the customers are our enemies.'
LAMB: And that's what they would say among themselves?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes. On tape.
LAMB: Inside the company?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes.
LAMB: On tape, `The competitor is our friend. The consumer is our enemy.'
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, ca--because the competitor wants higher prices, and the consumer wants lower prices. Well, if a co--you're a company, you want higher prices. So if you just sit down and make a deal with your competitors, you'll get higher prices. And the customer, no matter how much he does, you know, value shopping, will still have to pay the same price. Now that's why that's illegal because, ultimately, it undermines the system of capitalism, it undermines consumer confidence, and it creates a system where only the powerful can survive. You know, if--if you come in with--with the ability to do it better, you'll get crushed by the rest of the industry.
LAMB: Now to go back to all the basics, this is a company that has Ronald Reagan's statue in the front yard; it's a company that Mick Andreas' godfather was Hubert Humphrey; a company where Dwayne Andreas' best friends were Bob Strauss and Bob Dole and David Brinkley and all these people. Did any of that, through this process when you were studying it, have anything to do with them preventing from-you know, being investigated in the past?
Mr. EICHENWALD: It's--it's interesting because there is this-there is this trend at--that you s--that is--is evident at the company. The company refuses to cooperate with a criminal investigation of a former executive, for instance, who had--who had resigned and had been caught up in a financial fraud of his own that had--you know, completely before any of this other stuff happened.
LAMB: Is that Frankel?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes.
LAMB: And you have b--the reason I mentioned that: because you have a ve--you have your longest footnote on Frankel.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Frankel k--is my longest footnote because I had to give a full explanation why I was making the statements I was making, and it involves sw--citing a lot of internal government records.
LAMB: And he disagrees with you?
Mr. EICHENWALD: He disagrees with me, but I'm doing nothing more than saying what I--what I have from the government records, what I've been told from ADM, what I've heard from directors of ADM, you know, about what actually happened with Frankel. And there was a fraud. There was a fraud that--I'm sorry, there were allegations of fraud. This--since nothing was ever charged, I can't say that. There was allegations of fraud, there was a criminal investigation, and ADM dragged its feet; didn't really want to cooperate.
Now what--what was odd about that is that, ultimately, there was a--the price-fixing investigation was going on, so you--you'll know this in the--by reading the footnote; there was a competition between the Frankel investigation and the price-fixing investigation, and the price-fixing investigation was the bigger case. You know, you-you didn't want to have FBI agents, you know, trooping around the company on one investigation, while there's a--while there's an undercover investigation going on elsewhere. And so, ultimately, the--the agents on the price-fixing case, you know, played the trump card.
LAMB: But you point out that w--right before the raid, when the FBI was going to raid the company--and I know there's a lot we've not talked about here. But right before the raid, Dwayne Andreas is about to be named honorary chairman of an FBI academy?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes. It's one of tho--one of those elements-there were--there were times in the story--you know, I--I--I tried to convey at The Times how bizarre the story was, how...
LAMB: At The New York Times.
Mr. EICHENWALD: At The New York Times--how bizarre the story was, how many weird things were going on. But, ultimately, you know, newspapers have space limitations, and--and you can't really play the kinds of games with truth that I'm playing here. But the--the fact that Dwayne Andreas was--was going to be named to an honorary position by an association affiliated with the FBI--and I think it was like two days before the FBI was going to raid his company--was--was something you just couldn't make up. I mean, it was--it was just astonishing.
LAMB: And the security vice president, Chevron, is still with the company.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes.
LAMB: Did he have any problem in this whole--I mean, he was about to be--What?--was he chairman of the academy?
Mr. EICHENWALD: It--he--I think he actually did. It's--it's a--it's a--it's an organization that he was affiliated with, and I think he actually was named to a position with that organization.
LAMB: What--what--should companies be that close to the FBI, I mean, to have that kind of relationship?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, I mean, in truth, law enforcement can't be a game where, you know, they set themselves up in a shell and say, you know, `We'll--we'll wait for the information to come in.' I mean, they're supposed to have contacts everywhere. I mean, ADM is a company that has its fingers in--in a lot of pies all over the world, and law enforcement has close relationships with, you know, Merrill Lynch; it has close relationships with--with all sorts of companies that are spread out. And it's just a--a realm of having, you know, contacts for information flow.
Now if that, in turn--if there's ever any evidence that that, in turn, compromises an investigation, if they said, `Oh, ADM's, you know, being investigated for price-fixing, whoa, let's not do that investigation,' then you've got a problem.
LAMB: Page 135, of a 600-page book that sells for $26, `The men change subjects, discussing requests from Howard Buffett, the assistant to the ADM chairman'--by the way, was Howard Buffett on the board also?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Yes.
LAMB: But he was just a--he was just, in title, an assistant to...
Mr. EICHENWALD: His--his--his title did not reflect his--his-his role.
LAMB: Have anything to do with his father, Warren?
Mr. EICHENWALD: That--the fact that he was on the board?
LAMB: Yeah, that he was there as the assistant and was...
Mr. EICHENWALD: That certainly has been said to me.
LAMB: OK. Anyway, son of Warren Buffett, the famed Omaha investor, `Howard often heard from politicians'--this is ADM's Howard Buffett--`often heard from politicians and their money men when they wanted campaign contributions from ADM. "Howie called us," Whitacre said, "and asked us for funds for somebody, Tommy Thompson or whatever,"' and you go on to tell who Tommy Thompson was. This had to do with a campaign contribution. How much of that did you find in this story?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Campaign contri...
LAMB: The campaign contributions, the--the whole campaign finance issue that we talk with--so much about.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Oh. Well, the campaign finance issue is--is central to understanding ADM. I mean, you know, if you look at virtually every campaign s--finance scandal, ultimately you find ADM or Dwayne Andreas involved. I mean, my--my--my favorite little ADM tidbit: You know, everybody remembers the famous story of the $25,000 check that was traced from the--I think it was the Minnesota or the Midwest campaign finance chairman for the Committee to Re-elect the President in 1972--traced to the bank account of a Watergate burglar.
LAMB: Nixon campaign.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Burglar, right. It was...
Mr. EICHENWALD: And--and, you know, they ultimately--what isn't as well known is who wrote the check, and the check itself came from Dwayne Andreas. That same year, Dwayne Andreas walked into the White House with an accordion folder full of $100,000 in cash. They have, you know, the--the--the campaign finance issue is--is--is central to understanding this company's power and influence.
LAMB: `Andreas shrugged, "You can go over the limit, just a small fine."' This is a quote from here. I--put that into context.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well, two things to say about this. Number one, these are not my words. These are not people's recollections. This is from the tapes. This is actually what they said. And what Mick Andreas is saying there is, basically, if--if--I--I believe it was-it was Terry Wilson had said...
LAMB: It was, yeah.
Mr. EICHENWALD: ...that--that they had already given to their limit, you know, to Tommy Thompson. They couldn't give him any more. And Andreas' response to that is basically, `So what? You know, the-the fine's not so big. You can go ahead and go--you can go ahead and break the law.' It's--it's sort of, I guess, the benefit of having the money to--to pay the fine.
LAMB: But, again, going back to where we started in all this, all these connections--they have airplanes. Now you--you allude to them in here, but do the politicians use the airplanes? You know, we hear so often that corporate jets are provided to politicians.
Mr. EICHENWALD: I--I don't know of a circumstance where they did. It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but I don't know of one.
LAMB: And the relationship to ethanol and Bob Dole, what'd you find there?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Well...
LAMB: And how much federal money goes into ADM?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Oh, billions. I mean, ADM--every time they talk about recipients of corporate welfare, ADM is--ADM is always at the top of the list. The--the ethanol program alone is billions and billions of dollars. And you have, you know--the biggest champion of that program for many years was Bob Dole, and Dole was, you know, again, close friends with--with Dwayne Andreas. And you have a-a federal program which has certainly been heavily questioned in this city as to its social and societal value that, ultimately, is benefiting a major corporation that, in turn, is giving huge sums of money to politicians. I mean, it--it--it does--it does wreak.
LAMB: As you know, millions of dollars are spent by--are spent by ADM to television stations to fund news programs and the "Meet the Presses" of this world. Any evidence there that--by currying favor with the media, they get a softer treatment in this whole thing?
Mr. EICHENWALD: There--not in the book. There were certainly instances where--I'm going to be very oblique here-where people--where people in the media expressed discomfort to me when they learned that my book was about ADM. And I found that a little bit surprising.
LAMB: Why were they discomforted?
Mr. EICHENWALD: Because they had relationships or--or--or--or close ties on some levels with ADM. I mean, you know, it's a--it's a book that--it's a book that is not written--you know, ADM comes out look--from this book looking pretty horrible, and it's their own words that hang them. And the whole system of--of political contributions and influence looks as bad as anyone imagined. I mean, the end point of that--of that scene you were reading is that, you know, they start laughingly calculating how much the fines will cost. An--another one talks about how much it will cost after tax. And then Mick Andreas closes with the line, `Well, you know, basically, it's cheaper to pay the fine than to disappoint the politicians.'
And when you look at that in the context of what's going on, here's a company that is--in just one product line, in lysene, is literally stealing tens of millions of dollars a year from all of us. And then the money is being recirculated back into the political system, back into--back into the media with sponsorship of programs.
Now I am not saying that--you know, that politicians and--and the media have to do, you know, background checks on everybody who provides money, but ultimately it does make--certainly makes me very uncomfortable and people who have read the book and talked to me about it very uncomfortable that, you know, when the doors are closed and people think no one is listening, that these corporate--you know, these corporate types who, when they're in public, talk about First Amendment and--and, you know, supporting--expressing their political views, that when the door is closed, really, what they're talking about is, `Hey, our business will do better if we pay these politicians, even if we're breaking the law.' And I think that's something that really should give all of us some pause.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. It's called "The Informant." We've got a lot more to talk about. Our guest has been the author Kurt Eichenwald.
Thank you very much.
Mr. EICHENWALD: Thank you.
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