An Army Corps of Engineers official said yesterday that he was referring to a public relations courtesy when he wrote an e-mail last year saying a large contract with oil services contractor Halliburton Co. had been "coordinated" with the office of Vice President Cheney, the company's former chief executive.
Stephen Browning, a civilian regional director in the Army Corps based in San Francisco, said he wrote the March 5, 2003, e-mail to colleagues shortly after he and retired Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner met with Douglas J. Feith, a senior Pentagon official, about plans to declassify a contract with Halliburton subsidiary KBR.
The contract, awarded in secret the previous fall, required KBR to plan how to put out oil fires in Iraq and clean up any environmental impact in the aftermath of war. Browning, whose name was blacked out in the copy of the e-mail made public by Time magazine this week, said Feith had approved the arrangement "contingent on informing WH [the White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w VP's office."
Democrats in Congress claimed this week the word "coordinated" suggested that Cheney's office had a role in deciding to award a contract to KBR three days later that was worth as much as $7 billion.
Browning, who was allowed to discuss the e-mail yesterday, said he used the word "coordinated" because Feith said his office had contacted Cheney's office as a courtesy to let them know the contract had been awarded. Feith made it clear in the meeting that day that the Pentagon was sensitive to the perception that Cheney might have weighed in on behalf of his former company, Browning said.
" 'I agree we have to do this,' " Browning paraphrased Feith as saying in the meeting. " 'We just have to inform the vice president's office, the White House and Congress to ensure no one is surprised by this.' " Browning was at the meeting as a member of Garner's staff, which first directed reconstruction efforts in Iraq. "It had to do with the fact that when this was released to the public and the media that there could be a perception that there could be a connection to the office of the vice president," he said.
"Based on my knowledge, and my involvement, there was absolutely no involvement of the office of the vice president, by the vice president," Browning said.
Feith and Garner were unavailable for comment yesterday.