Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended his strong support for his Middle East commander, Army Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who is under investigation by the Pentagon inspector general. But Rumsfeld insisted that he has not prejudged the results of the inquiry, which is still underway.
"There isn't a chance in the world that it will have any possible interference with his role as the combatant commander in the Central Command," the U.S. military headquarters for Middle Eastern operations, Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference.
"I have discussed it with" Franks, Rumsfeld continued. "He just informed me that there was an inspector general case, and listed one or two of the allegations."
Officials with the office of the Defense Department's inspector general have been investigating since late last summer several allegations that Franks may have abused his office by improperly extending to his wife some of the perquisites of his office. They also have been investigating whether he may have violated security regulations by permitting her to listen to highly classified briefings.
The inspector general tentatively has concluded that there is evidence to support some of those allegations, defense sources said Monday.
A spokesman for Franks did not have any comment yesterday. On Monday Franks issued a brief statement confirming the existence of the inquiry but declined to comment on it.
As defense secretary, Rumsfeld is the official who must decide how to act upon the inspector general's finding. Rumsfeld said that he was speaking out on behalf of Franks because he felt that the leak disclosing the investigation was unfair to Franks.
"I think I did exactly the right thing," he said to reporters quizzing him about the legality of his statements.
Rumsfeld's support for Franks raised some eyebrows among specialists in military law.
"It troubles me," said David Sheldon, a Washington lawyer specializing in military law. "It appears that there is a massive prejudging going on in terms of outcome."
To avoid appearing to prejudge the matter, Eugene R. Fidell, another Washington lawyer, said, "circumspection is preferable."