E-Mail Links Cheney's Office, Contract
Officials Say Only Involvement in Halliburton Deal Was Announcing It
By Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 2, 2004; Page A06
Shortly before the Pentagon awarded a division of oil services contactor Halliburton Co. a sole-source contract to help restore Iraqi oil fields last year, an Army Corps of Engineers official wrote an e-mail saying the award had been "coordinated" with the office of Vice President Cheney, Halliburton's former chief executive.
The March 5, 2003, e-mail, disclosed over the weekend by Time magazine, noted that Douglas Feith, a senior Pentagon official, had signed off on the deal "contingent on informing WH [the White House] tomorrow."
"We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w VP's office," it continued.
Three days later, Halliburton subsidiary KBR was granted the contract, which was worth as much as $7 billion, according to information on the Army Corps of Engineers Web site. The first job under the contract was putting out oil fires. It was later expanded to include shipping fuel to Iraq, which led to Pentagon auditor charges that KBR had overbilled the government.
Yesterday, officials in Cheney's office and at the Pentagon played down the significance of the note, saying the word "coordinate" referred only to the public announcement of a deal that had been quietly in the works for months to prepare for the possibility that diplomatic efforts to avoid war in Iraq might fail. The United States began hostilities March 20.
"Vice President Cheney and his staff have had no involvement whatsoever in government contracting decisions since he left private business to run for vice president," said Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems. Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Lawrence T. DiRita said the vice president's office took part in interagency discussions about the possible need for such a contract, starting in the fall of 2002. But DiRita said Cheney's office had no role in the decision to grant the award. He described the use of the word "coordinate" in the e-mail as a "catch-all phrase" that signified "it's time for this contract to be executed."
The author of the e-mail about the contract was blacked out of the document, first obtained through a lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group in the District. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Scott Saunders described the official who wrote the note as "just a messenger."
"Coordination with the vice president's office, if any, would have been done at a much higher level than the Corps of Engineers," Saunders said. "It certainly wouldn't have been done by anyone in the corps."
Democrats in Congress seized on the e-mail to revive allegations about a Cheney role in the Halliburton contract. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to provide details about officials involved in the decision to award the contract and for "unredacted copies of all communications" between the Pentagon and White House about Halliburton contracts.
The campaign staff of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, arranged a conference call to raise questions about the e-mail.
Later, in an e-mail, Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said, "It's time for Dick Cheney to come clean and start answering questions about this e-mail. What 'coordination' did Cheney's office do? Who coordinated for Cheney?"
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