ASHCROFT’S PROMOTIONAL WORK…. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft has an op-ed in the New York Times today, and the teaser on the “Opinion” page of the Times‘ site started well. The first 10 words read, “The government must hold accountable any individuals who acted illegally…”

Regrettably, Ashcroft was referring to bailed out corporations, not Bush administration officials.

Ashcroft’s piece, in a nutshell, argues that there may be instances in which companies that received bailout money also broke the law. To hear the former AG tell it, that creates a predicament for administration officials, who want those companies to succeed for the sake of the larger economy. What to do? Ashcroft recommends “deferred prosecution agreements,” authorized by courts, which “avoid the destructiveness of indictments and allow companies to remain in business while operating under the increased scrutiny of federally appointed monitors.”

There is, however, a detail that readers of Ashcroft’s piece may find relevant: a conflict of interest. Zachary Roth reports:

To argue for the idea, Ashcroft cites the example of a deferred prosecution agreement that DOJ reached in 2007 with nation’s five largest manufacturers of prosthetic hips and knees, accused of giving kickbacks to orthopedic surgeons who used their products. In the spirit of disclosure, he notes in parentheses: “I was a paid monitor for one of these companies, Zimmer Holdings.”

But those pithy parentheses don’t begin to make clear that making such deals more prevalent, as Ashcroft desires, would represent a potential financial boon for the ex-AG, who now runs the Ashcroft Group, a law and lobbying firm — assuming he intends to remain active in the deferred prosecution agreement business.

Ashcroft is encouraging officials to pursue more deferred prosecution agreements. And who runs a firm that helps specialize in deferred prosecution agreements? Ashcroft does.

It reminds me of the time that Floyd Flake had an NYT op-ed touting the greatness of charter schools, without noting that he works for a company that operates for-profit charter schools in 21 states.

If the biggest problem on the Washington Post‘s op-ed page is a lack of fact-checking (see Will, George), the biggest problem on the New York Times‘s op-ed page is a lack of disclosure.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.