Inspector general removes himself from Blackwater investigations
Virginian Pilot (2007-11-15) Bill Sizemore
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By BILL SIZEMORE, The Virginian-Pilot
© November 15, 2007
Last updated: 1:17 PM
State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard pledged Wednesday to remove himself from any investigations involving Blackwater after a House committee chairman revealed that Krongard's brother serves on Blackwater's advisory board.
Accused of a conflict of interest by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Krongard first said his brother, Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, had no connection with Blackwater. Waxman then released Blackwater documents indicating that Krongard's brother had attended a Blackwater board meeting earlier this week in Williamsburg. After a break, Krongard said he had telephoned his brother and confirmed his Blackwater connection.
As inspector general, Krongard is the top State Department official charged with investigating allegations of waste, fraud and abuse. Waxman, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has accused him of impeding an investigation into alleged Blackwater arms smuggling in Iraq.
The investigation was opened in March by an agent in Krongard's office, according to a report released Wednesday by the House committee's Democratic staff. Over the summer, the agent contacted the Justice Department about a potential criminal prosecution and began trying to obtain Blackwater-related documents.
In a July 11 e-mail, Krongard ordered the investigation halted until he could be briefed by the Justice Department.
In a July 26 letter, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince invited Buzzy Krongard to join the Moyock, N.C.-based security company's new advisory board. The board would meet three times a year, Prince wrote, and members would be paid a $3,500 honorarium per meeting, plus expenses.
On July 31, Justice Department attorneys briefed Howard Krongard on the Blackwater case. At that meeting, according to a State Department agent interviewed by the House committee, Krongard "cited numerous reasons his investigators should not be involved in the investigation" and said the Justice Department was "wasting his time."
After that meeting, Howard Krongard received regular updates about the course of the investigation. Justice Department officials told the committee staff they were required to follow a "cumbersome and time-consuming" process in which document requests had to be funnel ed through a State Department public relations official. As of last week, they said, some of the requested materials still had not been provided.
Krongard's involvement in the investigation while his brother served on the Blackwater board "would appear to violate the conflict of interest guidelines applicable to inspectors general," the committee report concluded.
In testimony to the House committee Wednesday, Krongard first denied any knowledge of his brother's Blackwater connection and said: "I never impeded any investigation."
Shown the letter from Prince inviting his brother to join the board, Krongard said he didn't know whether his brother accepted. "I'm not my brother's keeper," he said.
Waxman then produced a
follow-up e-mail from Prince to Buzzy Krongard thanking him for joining the board and providing details about the board's first meeting Monday and Tuesday in Williamsburg, including transportation from Washington provided by Blackwater's aviation affiliate.
After the committee returned from a break, Krongard said he had just called his brother.
"I learned he had been at the advisory board meeting yesterday," he said. "I had not been aware of that. I want to state on the record right now that I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater."
The reversal put committee Republicans who supported Krongard on the defensive.
"He has done you tremendous damage," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told Krongard. "I don't know what kind of conversation you had with him, but I would have been one unhappy guy."
The Krongard matter was the second time in two days Blackwater has been in the news. The New York Times reported Tuesday that FBI agents have concluded that at least 14 of the 17 killings of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater personnel Sept. 16 in Baghdad were unjustified.
Blackwater sees nothing wrong with Howard Krongard's actions, spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said Wednesday: "We do not see a conflict of interest." The company has also denied any involvement in arms smuggling.
Buzzy Krongard is a former executive director of the CIA. Author Robert Young Pelton, in his 2006 book "Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror," wrote that Krongard's friendship with Prince was a factor in Blackwater's winning a $5.4 million no-bid CIA contract for security work in Afghanistan in 2002.
The company has hired several former high-powered Washington insiders, including Cofer Black, former counter-terrorism chief at the CIA, and Joseph Schmitz, former inspector general at the Pentagon.
In another sign of the company's embattled status, Blackwater has postponed a Washington symposium aimed at promoting its efforts to become involved in international peacekeeping and stability operations. Originally scheduled for Dec. 4-5, the event has been pushed back to spring 2008.
A company Web posting attributed the postponement to "the intense political focus on all things Blackwater lately, and the potential for excessive media focus and political protests."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bill Sizemore, (757) 446-2276, email@example.com