Air Force Secretary James G. Roche asked a lobbyist for Boeing Co. to use the company's Washington contacts to "quash" a deputy undersecretary of defense and make him "pay an appropriate price" for objecting to the Air Force's decision to lease Boeing 767 tanker aircraft, according to e-mails released yesterday by a Republican senator critical of the tanker deal.
Roche also pressured independent military cost analysts who questioned the high price of the lease, described other internal Pentagon critics as "animals," and ridiculed executives at European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS) and its Airbus division, the consortium that offered a competing plan, the e-mails show. He told his top public relations aide to "blow . . . away" the EADS chairman for raising questions about the Air Force decision to work with Boeing.
At one point in the three-year Air Force campaign for the lease, Roche e-mailed a friend at Raytheon Co., "Privately between us: Go Boeing!"
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has conducted an equally vigorous campaign against the lease, said in releasing the internal Pentagon communications in a speech on the Senate floor that the missives reflect a "systemic Air Force failure in procurement oversight, willful blindness or rank corruption."
McCain said top Air Force officials have recently been trying to "delude the American people" into believing that a single person is responsible for misconduct in the $30 billion leasing plan -- namely, Darleen A. Druyun, the Air Force contracting official who pleaded guilty two months ago to overpricing the tankers as a "parting gift" to Boeing before she became one of the firm's executives.
"I simply cannot believe that one person, acting alone, can rip off taxpayers out of billions of dollars," said McCain, who said he will keep pursuing internal Defense Department and Bush administration communications until "all the stewards of taxpayers' funds who committed wrongdoing are held accountable."
Roche and Marvin R. Sambur, the Air Force's top acquisitions manager, announced their resignations several days before McCain's speech. But both men said through Pentagon spokesmen that they had not been pushed out, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld issued a statement hailing Roche for serving "our country capably and with honor."
The e-mails McCain released add detail to previous disclosures about the scope and intensity of the Air Force's lobbying effort, mostly working with Boeing, to defend against early complaints from the Office of Management and Budget and various Pentagon analysts that the lease was a costly Boeing bailout. The critics have contended that buying the refueling planes outright would save billions of dollars and that no urgent need exists to replace Air Force tankers.
For Boeing, securing the lease was a way to keep its 767s in production during a period of declining orders from passenger airlines. It mounted an aggressive lobbying effort that drew support from influential members of the House and Senate, many of whom had received substantial Boeing campaign contributions, and eventually gained the backing of White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.
The deal was blocked by Congress this year, after Druyun pleaded guilty to ethics violations and two senior Boeing officials resigned. One, Michael Sears, has since pleaded guilty to violating an ethics law governing employment negotiations with defense officials such as Druyun.
Yesterday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and senior committee Democrat Carl M. Levin (Mich.) joined McCain in a letter to Rumsfeld that called the tanker lease "the most significant" abuse since the "Ill Wind" bribery and fraud cases of the 1990s. They jointly demanded a review of the roles played by all Pentagon officials, both military and civilian, who "participated in structuring and negotiating the proposed tanker lease contract."
Warner said in a personal statement after hearing McCain's speech that he thinks the information shows that the departures of Roche and Sambur were in the "best interests" of the Defense Department. Air Force spokesman Douglas Karas declined to provide detailed comment on the e-mails but said they reflect "negotiations on an acquisition program that is now behind us" and will be reviewed by the defense secretary before talks are restarted.
"Ms. Druyun is solely responsible for her misconduct," Karas said, "and the fact that she was caught, convicted and sentenced reflects that the checks and balances in the system work. . . . All airmen deplore her misconduct as an assault on our core value of integrity."
According to the e-mails, Roche and Sambur organized a three-track effort to promote the deal: They sought to beat back a competing tanker offer from Airbus, to silence internal administration dissent, and to promote glowing assessments of the tanker program in public forums and military circles, frequently with Boeing's help.
Druyun expressed fury in a Sept. 5, 2002, e-mail to Roche about published remarks by an Airbus official about the lease plan, for example. Calling his remarks "BS" and "slime," she added: "His day of reckoning will come hopefully." Roche's response was "Oy. I agree." He also said he wished Druyun could have "tortured him slowly" over a period of years.
Roche has denied in congressional testimony that he ever asked Boeing to put pressure on Michael W. Wynne, principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition, who complained in 2003 that the tanker aircraft were too costly. McCain reported yesterday that on May 7 of that year, a Boeing lobbyist reported in an e-mail to Roche that Sambur was feeling pressured by Wynne to cut the cost; the lobbyist, Paul Weaver, asked if Boeing "needs to do anything like calling in the big guns to help out."
Roche responded that "it's time for the big guns to quash Wynne! Boeing won't accept such a dumb contract form and price, and Wynne needs to 'pay' an appropriate price."
Six weeks later, Roche complained directly to Wynne, who by then was an acting undersecretary of defense and more supportive of the program, that officials in the Pentagon's Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) who said the lease did not meet key regulatory criteria were "about to cause us to embarrass SecDef [Rumsfeld], who having approved the lease, will now have to explain why his staff is destroying the case for it."
Roche rendered his own view on the critics: "This is their way of asserting dominance over you. I know this sounds wild, but animals are animals."
Wynne's answer was that "I see this as an OSD discipline problem myself," and shortly afterward, he wrote an e-mail to a PA&E official complaining: "I have plenty of problems, but being 'fragged' didn't seem to be one of them. Now I worry."