O Brother, Who Art Thou?
"I am not my brother's keeper," Howard "Cookie" Krongard, the State Department's inspector general, testified to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday.
As Cookie surely must know, that excuse hasn't worked since Genesis. But it was a fitting contribution to the modern-day Cain-and-Abel tale that unfolded before lawmakers' eyes in the Rayburn Building. In this case, the players weren't Cain and Abel, but Cookie and his brother Buzzy. Biblical scholars believe the first fratricide was committed with an ass's jawbone, but the weapon in this case was a uniquely Washington cudgel: the conflict of interest.
Cookie, under fire for allegedly quashing probes of the infamous Blackwater security contractor, began his testimony by angrily denying the "ugly rumors" that his brother, former CIA official Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, is on Blackwater's advisory board. But during a recess, Cookie called Buzzy and learned that -- gulp -- the ugly rumors are true: His brother is on the board.
When the lawmakers returned, Cookie revised and extended his testimony. "I had not been aware of that," Cookie told the congressmen. "I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater."
The lawmakers reacted with Old Testament fury.
"A pretty outrageous thing," thundered Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). Buzzy, Shays said, "has done you tremendous damage."
He certainly had. The swaggering Cookie -- he alternately addressed the lawmakers with his thumb in his waistband, slouching in his chair, rolling his eyes and making baffled glances -- had spent the morning aggressively denying the allegations lodged against him: that he had impeded investigations into contracting fraud, including weapons smuggling by Blackwater, and that he had abused his underlings. "Yes, I have been brusque, I have been shrill, I have been hard on people," Cookie said with no apology.
But then came Buzzy's bombshell -- and Cookie's credibility crumbled. Either he had lied to Congress, or his own brother had lied to him. "It is increasingly difficult, I must tell you, to give you the benefit of the doubt," said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
It was only the latest bit of strangeness for the powerful but eccentric Brothers Krongard. As The Post's Glenn Kessler reported, Cookie sued his own son and daughter-in-law last year over a home loan he made to them, firing off an e-mail saying his son's kids would be "on the street" if they lost the case. Cookie settled two weeks ago for a modest sum.
Then there's Buzzy, known for his cigar chomping, martial arts and recreational workouts with SWAT teams. "Krongard once punched a great white shark in the jaw," his hometown Baltimore Sun reported when he took the No. 3 job at the CIA a decade ago. "He has dangerous fish in his basement, a meat carving set made from the shin bones of a boar."
More recently, Buzzy joined the advisory board of Blackwater, the firm known for its ready trigger fingers in Iraq. And Cookie, at about that time, was resisting requests from the Justice Department to assist in a probe of Blackwater.
Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), in his opening statement, charged that Cookie "concealed this apparent conflict of interest."
At the end of his own opening statement, Krongard responded to Waxman with an off-the-cuff complaint. "One thing just came up that really does bother me, and that was an allegation concerning my brother," Cookie protested. "I specifically asked him. I do not believe it is true that he is a member of the advisory board."
Cummings distributed two documents that the committee had uncovered: a July 26 letter from Blackwater founder Erik Prince inviting Buzzy "to become a member of the Blackwater Worldwide Advisory Board," and a Sept. 5 e-mail to "thank you for accepting the invitation to be a member."
"Sir, I dispute that," Cookie replied with indignation. He argued that "there is nothing in here that suggests that my brother accepted this July 26 invitation."
Evidently, Cookie overlooked the "thank you for accepting" part.
Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.) took another bite of Cookie, informing him that the Blackwater board is meeting this week in Williamsburg and that Buzzy had already checked in. "He may be there to tell them he's not joining," Cookie speculated.
Buzzy was indeed in Williamsburg -- reporters confirmed it by calling the hotel during a recess -- and Cookie confessed it to the committee on his return.
The chairman tried to offer him a way out. "Have you had a difficult relationship with your brother?" he asked.
Cookie said he had not. "We have gone to great lengths to keep our professional experiences separate," he offered.
This wasn't good enough even for Shays, who had been so supportive of the witness that he literally rubbed Cookie's back during one recess. "The problem is, nobody's going to believe you," Shays explained. "I don't know what kind of conversation you had with your brother when you were on the phone, but I would be one pretty unhappy guy."
Within hours of the hearing, the blogosphere was buzzing with word that Buzzy had contradicted Cookie's account. "I had told my brother I was going on the advisory board," the Web site TPM Muckraker quoted Buzzy as saying.
Good thing Buzzy's a martial-arts expert -- Cookie may be coming after him with an ass's jawbone.