State Dept. Agents Say Jobs Were Threatened
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Two career investigators in the office of State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard have charged that they were threatened with firing if they cooperated with a congressional probe of Krongard and his office.
Told by Terry P. Heide, Krongard's congressional liaison, that he should not agree to a request for a "voluntary" interview by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Special Agent Ron Militana said he was then advised that reprisals could be taken against him. "Howard can fire you," he said Heide told him. "It would affect your ability to get another job."
Militana said in a telephone interview yesterday that he took that comment and others as direct threats. He and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian Rubendall, another career investigator who was also present at the Sept. 25 meeting with Heide and an IG lawyer, are among at least four IG investigators who have sought protection under the Whistleblower Protection Act. They also include the assistant inspector general for investigations and his deputy, who recently resigned after charging Krongard with impeding their work.
In recent weeks, the agents relayed their concerns about Krongard to Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the oversight panel. Waxman has said he is investigating allegations that Krongard has repeatedly thwarted investigations into alleged contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan, including construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and weapons smuggling allegations against Blackwater USA, a private security firm working under government contract in Iraq. The committee has scheduled a hearing on Oct. 16.
Waxman first revealed the details of the meeting in which Militana and Rubendall said they were threatened in a letter he sent yesterday to Krongard and posted on the committee's Web site. "I am appalled by these reports," Waxman wrote. "As an Inspector General, you hold a position of special trust within the federal government. Your office is supposed to be an example of how to protect whistleblowers, not an example of how to persecute them."
He said that the agents originally were cooperating anonymously but that they had decided to go public after the reprisal threats.
Krongard's office issued a statement yesterday saying that "the Office of the Inspector General has cooperated with and will continue to cooperate with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's investigation. Furthermore, the OIG will continue to make any OIG employee available to speak with the committee, if they choose."
Heide, the IG congressional liaison, confirmed in an interview that she had called the meeting with Militana and Rubendall, along with John M. Smith of the IG's legal counsel's office. But "the conversation was not as reported," she said. Waxman "selected certain statements out of context to make a particular case that does not exist. I categorically deny that I was telling them they would be retaliated against."
She said that the agents apparently "did not mention all the parts where I told them they were to tell the truth, they were to fully cooperate, that the Office of the IG and the IG himself was fully cooperating."
No one from the committee had contacted her before the letter was posted online. Waxman, Heide said tearfully, "has hurt somebody. I mean, this is my career." Her job, she said, "is simply to provide information. That's what I was doing."
J. Keith Ausbrook, minority counsel for the committee, also took exception to Waxman's tactics, saying that committee Republicans were "deeply concerned" with the letter. "It seems to us to be an example of shooting first and asking questions later," he said. Ausbrook emphasized that "we don't want to minimize" the seriousness of the alleged threats. "We are concerned about this as well. But we are also concerned about the way the majority has proceeded to deal with it."
The Senate confirmed President Bush's nomination of Krongard, who had no previous State Department experience, in May 2005. He previously worked for an international law firm and had been general counsel for Deloitte & Touche in the mid-1990s. His brother, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, served as the No. 3 CIA official under then-Director George J. Tenet.
Howard Krongard's office, charged with oversight of State Department contracts and operations, has competed with the congressionally appointed Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). He was closely involved in unsuccessful administration efforts to shut down SIGIR's operations when its funding and mandate ran out last year, according to a source closely involved in internal administration discussions of the matter who declined to speak on the record.
State Department contracts in Iraq became a target for Waxman when he became chairman of the oversight committee in January. Krongard's operations have been the subject of several hearings. In a 13-page letter to Krongard on Sept. 18, Waxman charged that the inspector general had "interfered with ongoing investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment."
The letter, which Waxman said was based on allegations by seven current and former members of Krongard's staff, alleged that Krongard had refused to send investigators to Iraq and Afghanistan to investigate $3 billion worth of State Department contracts and had impeded a Justice Department probe into the construction of the embassy in Baghdad. It also included an internal e-mail that indicated Krongard had intervened to stop his office from cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into alleged arms smuggling by Blackwater. In a North Carolina case, two Blackwater employees have pleaded guilty to weapons charges and are cooperating with Justice officials.