The Waxman Method
Wall Street Journal (2008-02-09)
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Howard Krongard worked his last day at the State Department recently, having learned a hard lesson in the ways of modern Congressional "oversight." To wit, if you don't follow Henry Waxman's orders, he'll try to ruin you.
Comfortable after four successful decades in private life, Mr. Krongard thought he'd do a turn in public service by taking a job in 2005 as State's Inspector General, a supposedly "independent" role. Little did the political rookie realize that Congressional barons like Mr. Waxman think that the IGs work for them.
In July, Mr. Krongard testified before Mr. Waxman's House oversight committee about a non-scandal involving allegedly poor treatment of foreign workers at the construction site of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Mr. Krongard said he had inspected and found no evidence of human trafficking or human-rights violations. That's not what Mr. Waxman wanted to hear. In his opening statement, the California partisan insisted that State's approach to the inquiry was evidence of a "full bunker mentality."
Mr. Krongard soon found a bull's-eye on his back. As if on cue, "whistleblowers" emerged to accuse him of being too cozy with top State officials, failing to pick up counterfeit computers in Afghanistan, and even of being a high-handed boss. The principal complainers were not under oath, nor did they offer much evidence. One accuser admitted that, "I have no proof, I want to make that clear it is just my opinion."
Democrats howled that Mr. Krongard had intervened in the audit of State Department books to help the department get a "clean" result. What really happened? He argued that the auditors should get extra time to complete their work -- a position supported both by the Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office.
Mr. Krongard was also said to have "impeded" a Justice Department probe into allegations of weapons smuggling by Blackwater Inc., the civilian contractor in Iraq. In fact, he was coordinating as far back as July on a civil audit of Blackwater contracts with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Later that month, he learned that employees in his office were cooperating with a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney in North Carolina of weapons smuggling affecting the same contracts.
To avoid the conflict of parallel proceedings within the office, Mr. Krongard instructed the employee to "stop immediately" any further work until Mr. Krongard could speak to the U.S. Attorney's office, which he offered to do right away. In short, he was doing his job, which is to make sure investigations aren't tainted by conflicts of interest. Mr. Waxman also made much of the fact that Mr. Krongard has a brother who served on a Blackwater advisory board. But Mr. Krongard immediately recused himself on learning of his brother's Blackwater tie.
Every specific charge against Mr. Krongard was examined and refuted in a report by the committee minority. And as Mr. Krongard noted, he was not a big political donor, had never met President Bush, and had never been to the White House except as a tourist. Yet none of these facts interfered with Mr. Waxman's public smears that Mr. Krongard's "partisan political ties" had led him to "halt investigations, censor reports, and refuse to cooperate with law-enforcement agencies."
Mr. Waxman doesn't much care if any of this is true, because his larger goal is to send a message to every Inspector General in government: They answer to him. Mr. Waxman expects them to tee up political scandals in the executive branch and serve as witnesses for his prosecution whether or not the facts support it. Mr. Krongard's mistake was telling the truth.