Moore blasts Bush over film-trip probe

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Filmmaker Michael Moore has asked the Bush administration to call off an investigation of his trip to Cuba to get treatment for ailing Sept. 11 rescue workers for a segment in his upcoming health-care expose, "Sicko."

Moore, who made the hit documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" assailing President Bush's handling of Sept. 11, said in a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson on Friday that the White House may have opened the investigation for political reasons.

"For five and a half years, the Bush administration has ignored and neglected the heroes of the 9/11 community," Moore said in the letter, which he posted on the liberal Web site Daily Kos. "These heroic first responders have been left to fend for themselves, without coverage and without care.

"I understand why the Bush administration is coming after me -- I have tried to help the very people they refuse to help, but until George W. Bush outlaws helping your fellow man, I have broken no laws and I have nothing to hide."

Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. is releasing "Sicko," told The Associated Press the movie is a "healing film" that could bring opponents together over the ills of America's health-care system.

"This time, we didn't want the fight, because the movie unites both sides," Weinstein said. "We've shown the movie to Republicans. Both sides of the bench love the film. The pharmaceutical industry won't like the movie. HMOs will try to run us out of town, but that's not relevant to the situation.

"The whole campaign this time was not to be incendiary. It was, can Michael Moore bring both sides together?"

The health-care industry Moore skewers in "Sicko" was a major contributor to Bush's 2004 re-election campaign and to Republican candidates over the last four years, Moore wrote.

"I can understand why that industry's main recipient of its contributions -- President Bush -- would want to harass, intimidate and potentially prevent this film from having its widest possible audience," Moore wrote.

Treasury officials in Washington said Friday they would have no comment on the contents of Moore's letter, citing a policy against discussing specific investigations being conducted by Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency that enforces the trade embargo against Cuba.

"Generally speaking, as administrators and enforcers of U.S. sanctions, OFAC is required to investigate potential violations of these programs," Treasury spokeswoman AnnMarie Hauser said. "In doing so, OFAC issues hundreds of letters each year asking for additional information when possible sanctions violations have occurred."

OFAC notified Moore in a letter dated May 2 that it was conducting a civil investigation for possible violations of the U.S. trade embargo restricting travel to Cuba.

Moore questioned the timing of the investigation, noting that "Sicko" premieres May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and debuts in U.S. theaters June 29. The Bush administration knew of his plans to travel to Cuba since last October, said Moore, who went there in March with about 10 ailing workers involved in the rescue effort at the World Trade Center ruins.

Weinstein said the investigation would only help publicize the film.

"The timing is amazing. You would think that we originated this. It reads like a fiction best-seller," Weinstein said.

Cuba on Friday characterized Moore as a victim of censorship and the U.S. trade embargo.

The Communist Party daily Granma called the 45-year-old U.S. travel and trade sanctions "a criminal action that has cost lives and grave consequences for the inhabitants of the island," as well as Americans.

"Any resemblance to McCarthyism is no coincidence," the newspaper opined, referring to the political witch hunt that U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy carried out against suspected American communists in the 1950s.

The U.S. government's targeting of Moore "confirms the imperial philosophy of censorship" by American officials, it added.

OFAC's letter to Moore noted that he had applied in October 2006 for permission as a full-time journalist to travel to Cuba, but that the agency had not made any determination on his request.

The agency gave Moore 20 business days to provide details on his Cuba trip and the names of those who accompanied him.

Moore won an Academy Award for best documentary with his 2002 gun-control film "Bowling for Columbine" and scolded Bush in his Oscar acceptance speech as the war in Iraq was just getting under way.

The investigation has given master promoter Moore another jolt of publicity just before the release of one of his films. "Fahrenheit 9/11" premiered at Cannes in 2004 amid a public quarrel between Moore and the Walt Disney Co., which refused to let subsidiary Miramax release the film because of its political content.

Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein ended up releasing the film on their own and later left to form the Weinstein Co., distributor of "Sicko."

"This is 'Fahrenheit' all over again. 'Let's pressure somebody.' Last time it was Disney, this time it's direct," Harvey Weinstein said.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" won the top prize at Cannes and went on to become the top-grossing documentary ever with $119 million.

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