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Congressman: State Dept. official threatened investigators

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« on: September 29, 2007, 10:14:31 pm »

Congressman: State Dept. official threatened investigators
By Warren P. Strobel | McClatchy Newspapers
Posted on Friday, September 28, 2007 email | print tool nameclose
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WASHINGTON Aides to State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard threatened two investigators with retaliation this week if they cooperate with a congressional probe into Krongard's office, the chairman of a House of Representatives panel and other U.S. officials said Friday.

The allegations are the latest in a growing uproar surrounding Krongard. Current and former officials in his office charge that he impeded investigations into alleged arms smuggling by employees of the private security firm Blackwater and into faulty construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Krongard has denied the charges and is due to appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee next month.

In a statement e-mailed to reporters Friday, his office said it was cooperating with investigators.

"The Office of the Inspector General has cooperated with and will continue to cooperate with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's investigation," the statement said. "Furthermore, the OIG will continue to make any OIG employee available to speak with the committee, if they choose."

Officials at the State Department and other agencies said support for Krongard appeared to be slipping and that it remained uncertain whether he could keep his job. They spoke on condition of anonymity, because Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hasn't made a final decision in the matter.

The probe into Krongard's office is being led by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House oversight committee.

The two investigators said they were threatened with retaliation perhaps including losing their jobs if they cooperated, Waxman said in a letter to Krongard.

According to the letter, Krongard's congressional liaison told one of the two, Special Agent Ronald A. Militana, "Howard can fire you. It would affect your ability to get another job."

In a telephone interview, Militana confirmed that he's filed a complaint with Waxman's panel and said the congressman's letter quoted him accurately. He declined to comment further.

Militana and the other investigator, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian Rubendall, were among those pressing for an investigation into whether employees of Blackwater were illegally shipping automatic weapons and other military goods to Iraq without a license. Rubendall couldn't be reached for comment.

McClatchy Newspapers reported last week that two Blackwater employees have pleaded guilty in Greenville, N.C., to weapons charges and are cooperating with federal officials.

Blackwater, which has received roughly $835 million in State Department contracts, mostly to guard U.S. civilians in Iraq, is under intense scrutiny after a series of violent incidents involving its contractors. In the most recent, Blackwater teams were involved in a shooting at a busy Baghdad traffic circle Sept.16 that killed 11 Iraqis.

According to an e-mail obtained by Waxman's committee, Krongard intervened when federal prosecutors asked for help from his office in investigating the Blackwater arms-smuggling allegations.

The investigations division of the inspector general's office "is directed to stop IMMEDIATELY any work on these contracts until I receive a briefing from the (assistant U.S. attorney) regarding the details of this investigation. SA Militana, ASAIC Rubendall and any others involved are to be directed by you not to proceed in any manner until the briefing takes place," Krongard wrote to a subordinate July 11.

Krongard denied those allegations on Sept. 18 and said he'd made "one of my best investigators" available to help the Justice Department.

That investigator, Waxman wrote Friday, was Militana.

Several current and former State Department officials have sought whistleblower protection after complaining about Krongard conducted the inspector general's office, according to a U.S. official who requested anonymity.

In a related development, members of a panel that Rice set up to review State Department security operations in Iraq are due to depart for Baghdad this weekend.

The department announced that the panel, led by Patrick Kennedy, State's director of management policy, will be composed of retired Army Gen. George Joulwan, who served as NATO's supreme allied commander, Europe; former Ambassador to China Stapleton Roy; and retired Ambassador Eric Boswell, who served as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security.

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