MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The State Department's Inspector General Howard Krongard has recused himself from any investigation to Blackwater security, that's because his brother is on Blackwater's advisory board. At a hearing today on Capitol Hill, Krongard said he was just learning that for the first time. He also tried to defend himself against allegations that he squelched investigations to protect Bush administration officials.
Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN: If today's House Government Oversight Committee hearing were a trial - and it certainly sounded like one at times - the Democrats played the role of the prosecutors and the Republican side provided the defense.
Republican Christopher Shays said he felt Howard Krongard had been trashed by the committee. So in questioning, he gave the inspector general a chance to counter the image that his actions have been politically motivated.
Representative CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (Republican, Connecticut): Have you ever met or spoken to President George Bush or any of the senior staff?
Mr. HOWARD KRONGARD (Inspector General, U.S. State Department): No, sir.
Rep. SHAYS: You've never him?
Mr. KRONGARD: No, sir.
KELEMEN: And Krongard said he hasn't made any political contributions in recent years, but he had a more difficult time explaining his brother's relationship with the security firm, Blackwater. Krongard told Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, that he had no knowledge that his brother, Alvin, also known as Buzzy, was on Blackwater's advisory board. But Cummings was armed with e-mails from Blackwater CEO Erik Prince.
Representative ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): Did you know where your brother is this week? Do you know?
Mr. KRONGARD: No, sir, I don't.
Rep. CUMMINGS: According to this e-mail, Mr. Prince invited your brother to be at a board meeting to discuss strategic planning. And this meeting is taking place right now in Williamsburg, Virginia, this week as we speak.
KELEMEN: Krongard said he used a break in the hearing to call his brother, a former top CIA official.
Mr. KRONGARD: I reached him at home. He is not at the hotel, but I learned that he had been at the advisory board meeting yesterday. I had not been aware of that, and I want to state it on the record right now that I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater.
KELEMEN: The chairman of the committee, Henry Waxman, started looking into Krongard's management of the inspector general's office after a couple of whistleblowers came forward to talk about inadequate oversight of the construction of the Embassy Baghdad and Krongard's failures to assist Justice Department investigations, not only into the embassy, but also into allegations that Blackwater was involved in arms smuggling.
Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California; Chairman, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee): If the reports the committee has received from the Justice Department and the inspector general's senior staff are accurate, Mr. Krongard has acted with reckless incompetence.
KELEMEN: Krongard denied he impeded any investigations and said in the case of Blackwater, his office was already helping the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction look into two contracts when he found out the Justice Department saw the information about those same contracts.
Mr. KRONGARD: And I was immediately concerned that for us simultaneously to be assisting a criminal investigation into the exact same two contracts that we were already assisting a civil audit into raised questions of parallel proceedings, which needed to be de-conflicted before one infected or contaminated the other.
KELEMEN: One of the whistleblowers sat shaking his head at some points in the testimony. John DeDona was assistant inspector general for investigations at the State Department and said he was twice told by Krongard not to cooperate with the Justice Department. He left the State Department in mid-August.
Mr. JOHN DeDONA (Former Deputy Assistant Inspector General, State Department): I had asked to be allowed to step down. I was just frustrated with the tactics and the inability to get any real significant work done in the office.
KELEMEN: Krongard said he knows that as a manager, he can be brusque, shrill and hard on people, but he said he was dealing with the dysfunctional office that had little oversight before he got there.
Democrats and Republicans argued for a while about whom to believe - Krongard or his dissenting staffers, and not surprisingly, the members of the committee came down along party lines.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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