Tomorrow morning is the long-awaited mark-up of the surveillance bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Russ Feingold (D-WI), who voted against the bill in the intelligence committee, is going to redouble his efforts to rid the bill of its provision granting retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that complied with the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program. From a statement, via ThinkProgress:
Granting retroactive immunity for companies that allegedly went along with this illegal program is unjustified and undermines the rule of law. Not only would retroactive immunity set the terrible precedent that breaking the law is permissible and companies need not worry about the privacy of their customers, but it would likely prevent courts from ruling on the Presidentâs illegal warrantless wiretapping program. This program was one of the worst abuses of executive power in our history, and the courts should be able to rule on it once and for all.
Recently, AT&T whistleblower technician Mark Klein said the provision was a cover-up, designed to prevent the public from learning the extent of what Klein called unbounded and "massively domestic" surveillance. Committee leaders Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) have been critics of the immunity provision, so perhaps Feingold can quash the provision in Judiciary, even if he wasn't able to do so on the intelligence committee.
December: a time of carols, sleigh bells, and contempt citations.
The House Democrats were set to hold a vote this Friday on whether to find White House officials in contempt of Congress for ignoring subpoenas related to the U.S. attorney firings investigation, The Politicoreports. But no more. The vote, already delayed since July, has been pushed to December, at the earliest. The reason? The Politico quotes a "top House Democratic leadership aide": "[Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-NY)] has been saying that this week is not the time to do this, that it will step on our message on Iraq and FISA."
So at least former White House counsel Harriet Miers, who refused to even show up for a House Judiciary Committee hearing, can enjoy her Thanksgiving. Happy feasting, Harriet!
Leave aside the drama from today's House oversight committee hearing about State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard's brother joining the advisory board of a huge State Department contractor. Another issue that came up: Krongard is accused of improperly tipping off ex-Broadcasting Board of Governors chief Ken Tomlinson -- a close Karl Rove ally and muckly fellow -- in 1995 that Tomlinson was under investigation for double-billing the State Department for hours worked. The charge was included in Rep. Henry Waxman's bill of particulars (pdf) against Krongard issued in September.
Krongard initially told Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) that he didn't have any contact with Tomlinson. But in follow-up questioning with Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), he said his temporary assistant accidentally faxed specific complaints about Tomlinson from a whistleblower over to the BBG's executive director. It was all a mistake, Krongard said, because he had just meant to send the BBG a letter from Congress alerting BBG to the investigation.
Only sending the letter from Congress is exactly what Waxman initially faulted. His bill of complaints against Krongard stated that sending the BBG the Congressional letter "was inconsistent with standard investigative procedures, and, according to multiple sources, jeopardized the investigation." What's more, Waxman didn't buy Krongard's distinction between sending the fax to the executive director and communicating with Tomlinson, which was the basis for his answer to Shays. Krongard, for his part, said there was no way he could have conducted any kind of inquiry if he hadn't reached out to the BBG executive director for basic information.
One of Krongard's chief defenders, Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT), found the timeline of the Krongards' relationship with Blackwater troubling. "To have your brother tell you he was not involved in Blackwater" and to only find out at the hearing that he's connected to the company "is a pretty outrageous thing," Shays said. Buzzy has done Cookie "tremendous damage" and suggested that Cookie should have taken further steps to ensure that he knew whether his brother was on the advisory board of a State Department contractor. Here's video:
According to Howard "Cookie" Krongard, his brother Buzzy didn't tell him in a phone conversation in early October that he had joined Blackwater's advisory board, though Buzzy "may have" mentioned he was approached by the company for the position. So when did Buzzy Krongard join the advisory board?
Blackwater's Anne Tyrrell says she doesn't know the exact date. But "it would be accurate to say that he was invited in late July and accepted soon after," she says.
Howard "Cookie" Krongard said he's just learned that his brother is on Blackwater's advisory board and has formally recused himself from investigating the company.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) asked when Krongard learned his brother, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard was on Blackwater's board. Krongard said that he just learned about his brother's position, and had a single phone conversation with him in early October -- "about five, six weeks ago" -- in which Buzzy told Cookie that he didn't have "a significant financial interest" in Blackwater. Blackwater has multi-million contracts with the State Department.
Company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell told me the advisory board was formed in the summer. I'm still trying to learn the exact date Buzzy joined up, but that would be before Buzzy's phone conversation with his brother. Cookie Krongard told Rep. Lynch that his brother didn't mention taking a position on the advisory board, although Buzzy "may have said" that Blackwater approached him about one. "I am not my brother's keeper," Cookie Krongard said.
Update: Cookie has certainly changed his tune from the beginning of the hearing. There, he said that his brother had told him that he wasn't on Blackwater's advisory board. Here's what he said:
"I can tell you very frankly, I am not aware of any financial interest or position [my brother] has with respect to Blackwater. It couldnât possibly have affected anything Iâve done, because I donât believe it. And when these ugly rumors started recently, I specifically asked him. I do not believe it is true that he is a member of the advisory board, as you stated, and that is something I think I need to say."
Late Update: Rep. Lynch's first name is Stephen, not Patrick. I regret the error.
That's settled. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell confirmed in an e-mail today to TPMmuckraker that A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, brother of State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, is a member of Blackwater's advisory board.
Howard Krongard testified this morning that he doesn't know if his brother is on Blackwater's advisory board, but if Buzzy is, Howard would recuse himself from any Blackwater-related investigations.
Krongard might not know if his brother is a member of Blackwater's advisory board. But Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) read from a July, 2007 letter from Erik Prince, the company's CEO, inviting A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard to join the board as "a stellar opportunity to support security, peace and freedom." Howard Krongard said he still didn't know if his brother has in fact joined the board, but that if A.B. Krongard has, Howard Krongard would recuse himself from any investigations into Blackwater.
We'll show you the letter as soon as we have it.
Rep. Cummings also said that there's a Blackwater advisory board meeting in a Virginia hotel right now. Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) followed up, saying that A.B. Krongard has, in fact, checked into that hotel, which is in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Howard Krongard replied that he didn't know if, perhaps, his brother traveled to Williamsburg to decline membership on the board. Here's video:
Why didn't Howard Krongard cooperate with a Justice Department investigation of whether Blackwater smuggled weapons into Iraq? One explanation, that Krongard denied, is that his brother has ties with Blackwater. (It's still unclear. We have requested comment from Blackwater. We'll see.)
Krongard's own explanation is that in early July this year, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, informed Krongard that he was reviewing two Blackwater contracts with the State Department and asked for help. Krongard said that he didn't think it was appropriate to cooperate with a "criminal" investigation until he could "deconflict" his role with Bowen's investigation: "It raised questions of parallel procedure." Here's video:
Waxman said that Krongard's explanation contradicts what he was told by both Krongard deputies and Justice Department officials, who say it's standard practice for inspector general investigators to cooperate with Justice Department requests.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), playing his usual contrary role, said that none of Krongard's whistleblower accusers agreed to testify under oath. Waxman countered that the accusers were under oath in private interviews and GOP members were allowed to cross-examine them. The GOP wanted them to testify today and isn't satisfied with Waxman's promise to release the transcripts of their interviews.
At the beginning of today's House oversight committee hearing on State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) dropped a bombshell: Krongard's brother, former CIA Executive Director A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, sits on Blackwater's advisory board. Blackwater, of course, is a State Department contractor.
Calling Krongard's case one of seemingly "reckless incompetence," Waxman reminded the hearing that one of the charges against Krongard is that he squelched an investigation into a State contractor -- since named as Blackwater -- smuggling weapons into Iraq. According to Waxman, Howard Krongard concealed his brother's association with Blackwater from "his own deputy." Here's video:
Update: Krongard just said he is "unaware of any financial interest" in Blackwater by his brother. "I do not believe it is true that he is a member of the advisory board, as you stated," he told Waxman.
Late Update: To be clear, the issue seems to be that Blackwater invited Krongard's brother to join its advisory board, not its board of directors. This post has been changed to reflect this clarification.