Defense Eyes Wolfowitz Friend's Contract

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 18, 2007; 5:31 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is reviewing a 2003 contract that went to a World Bank employee and companion of Paul Wolfowitz, then the No. 2 official at the Defense Department.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday that the department is "having to go back and look at the paper trail" because some people who were with the department at the time of the contract have left. He stopped short of calling it an investigation.

Whitman's comments come after Science Applications International Corp., a large defense contractor, said it was directed to hire Shaha Riza, who at the time worked as a communications adviser in the bank's Middle East Department.

Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, is fighting to keep his job after disclosing that he was directly involved in arranging a promotion and raises for Riza after he came to the development agency.

Under the Pentagon contract, which ran from April 25 to May 31, 2003, Riza spent a month studying ways to help set up a new government in Iraq. Riza was paid expenses but no salary while in Iraq, an SAIC spokesman said Tuesday.

At the time of the contract, Wolfowitz was deputy defense secretary and played a key role in mapping out the Iraq war.

He left the Pentagon in 2005 to become president of the World Bank. Wolfowitz had a direct hand in transferring Riza to a high-paying job at the State Department in 2005, shortly after he took the helm, according to documents released last week.

The flap has provoked cries of favoritism and outrage from many World Bank employees, who want Wolfowitz to resign. Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and various aid groups are among those calling for Wolfowitz to step down. Critics say he has tarnished the bank's reputation.

However, the United States _ the bank's largest shareholder _ offered fresh support for the embattled development chief on Wednesday.

"The president has full confidence in President Wolfowitz," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "We'd like to see him remain."

Asked if the bank's image is hurt by the Wolfowitz controversy, Fratto responded: "It's not what we believe."

Riza remains on the World Bank's payroll though she left the State Department job in 2006 and now works for Foundation for the Future, an international organization that gets some money from the department.

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