Federal prosecutors in Miami took the unusual step of summoning the U.S. Ambassador to Albania to testify before a grand jury in the ongoing probe of arms dealer AEY Inc. and its 22-year-old president.
The Los Angeles Times
landed an extensive interview with Ambassador John Withers II and wrote up a interesting story this morning
, giving Withers an opportunity to deny allegations of any State Department cover-up in the case of Efraim Diveroli.
The story doesn't make clear what the grand jury in Miami is hearing testimony about, since Diveroli and three others were already indicted
on June 20.
And while Withers tells the Times
how cooperative he's been with the investigation, a source on Capitol Hill tells TPMmuckraker that State has not yet delivered documents that the oversight committee requested by June 30 or made officials available for interviews by the committee's July 11 deadline.
It's been a few weeks since Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and the oversight committee unveiled a stack of documents suggesting that Withers and others of knew about and helped cover up
concerns that AEY's shipment of Chinese ammo may have violated U.S. law.
story boils down to the ambassador's aggressive defense against the extraordinary allegations.
Important questions about Waxman's allegations emerged last week as Withers spoke out for the first time in interviews with The Times, denying any embassy involvement in a cover-up and insisting officials there worked closely with investigators to secure evidence for the prosecution.
Withers' version has been supported by at least four other U.S. officials. In addition, a criminal investigator working on the case credited embassy staff with providing "outstanding support" to the criminal inquiry, according to a Nov. 28, 2007, Defense Department e-mail that was reviewed by The Times.
"Far from covering this up, we were helpful to this investigation, and proud of it," said Withers, a 24-year Foreign Service veteran. Withers has been given permission by State Department officials to speak publicly providing he does so as an individual and not as a representative of the U.S. government or the State Department.
It's not clear what "investigation" Withers was referring to cooperating with. U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement officials have said they began an investigation into AEY Inc. in 2005, but other law enforcement and military officials have also conducted investigations.
The State Department's inspector general launched an investigation
into the matter after Waxman publicized the allegations of a cover up.
According to Withers' account to the Times
, the ambassador agreed to a late-night meeting with the Albanian defense minister in November because he feared the minister may have had information related to terrorism.
When the minister, Fatmir Mediu, arrived, he started talking about how a reporter from the New York Times
was asking questions about Chinese-made ammunition and corruption in the Albanian Ministry of Defense.
Mediu begged Withers to help prevent a potentially damaging story. Withers said that Mediu, in an emotional state, had "outlandish" suggestions such as blocking the reporter's access and repackaging the munitions to hide their Chinese origin.
Withers said that he and the other U.S. officials present gave no sign that they approved of his ideas, suggesting only that Mediu prepare a rebuttal to the article once it appeared.
A U.S. Army major working at the embassy in Tirana gave a conflicting account
of that meeting to Waxman's committee and his own military bosses.
Today's story also throws out an oddly sourced suggestion that Army Major Larry Harrision may have recanted his allegations
Withers and other U.S. officials said Harrison had since denied in private conversations that he intended to accuse Withers of wrongdoing, and had claimed that his words were taken out of context by the committee.
Private conversations? That seems like something the State Department would want to document, doesn't it?