NEW YORK – Congressional investigators began reviewing documents on Thursday handed over by Robert Parton (search), a former senior investigator on the Independent Inquiry Committee (search) probing the $64 billion Oil-for-Food program.
Parton delivered the documents on Wednesday night after he was issued a subpoena by the House International Relations Committee on Friday night.
"I have directed investigators for the committee to begin an immediate and careful examination of documents received from Mr. Parton," Rep. Henry Hyde (search), the committee's chairman, said in a statement on Thursday. "I wish to extend to Mr. Parton my thanks for fully complying with the committee's subpoena. It is my hope and expectation that neither the United Nations nor the independent inquiry will attempt to sanction Mr. Parton for complying with a lawful subpoena."
Because the review of the subpoenaed materials is currently underway, Hyde, R-Ill., declined to characterize their contents. The materials contain records of Parton's investigation of the role played by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) in the probe of what happened to billions of dollars that went missing from the nine-year humanitarian aid program with Iraq.
The contents of the boxes handed over by Parton are believed to be damaging to the secretary-general because, as sources told FOX News, they describe inconsistencies in the story Kofi Annan told investigators about a conflict of interest involving his son Kojo Annan, and Cotecna, the Swiss company that employed Kojo Annan and which won one of the most lucrative Oil-for-Food contracts.
Parton and Miranda Duncan (search) both resigned from the panel last month in protest. They accused the IIC of downplaying Annan's role in the Oil-for-Food corruption scandal in an interim report released by the panel last March.
IIC chief Paul Volcker wrote a letter to Parton's lawyer on Thursday as well as to Rep. Chris Shays (search), R-Conn., chairman of a House Government Reform subcommittee, saying that turning over any investigation-related documents violated confidentiality agreements and that the IIC is contemplating action on the matter.
Click here to read Volcker's letter to Parton's lawyer (pdf file).
Click here to read Volcker's letter to Shays (pdf file).
IIC staffers who made certain commitments in regard to the inquiry, "cannot, in my judgment, reasonably and honorably unilaterally violate those pledges of confidentiality and acceptance of immunity at the expense of their former colleagues and the investigation itself," the letter to Shays reads.
Hyde's committee has conducted seven oversight hearings since April of 2004 and issued several subpoenas to various U.N. contractors associated with the Oil-for-Food program (search). Hyde added that he plans to unveil wide-ranging U.N. reform legislation later this spring.
After the subpoena was issued Friday night, Parton's attorney, Lanny Davis, said he wrote to the United Nations and Volcker asking if they would instruct Parton to defy a congressional subpoena. After not hearing back from the United Nations and the IIC, Parton handed over the boxes of documents to Hyde's committee.
Congressional lawmakers have been trying to talk to Parton ever since his resignation two weeks ago. Last week, Volcker tried to block such efforts by insisting that Parton and Duncan, both Americans, had diplomatic immunity.
In a letter sent to Volcker on Tuesday, Shays warned, "Any resort to reflexive secrecy or legalism undermines the independence and transparency the IIC was meant to bring to the examination" of the U.N. program.
Shays continued to say that if Parton and Duncan were not permitted to speak to Congress, the panel risked tarnishing its appearance of independence from the United Nations.
"I encourage you to find a way to make the former investigators available to Congress," Shays wrote.
Click here to read Shays' letter to Volcker (pdf file).
Volcker: Parton Violated Confidentiality
Volcker issued a statement Thursday saying his panel's work "requires confidentiality with respect both to sources who have entrusted the inquiry with vital information and to the committee’s own deliberations.
"I am confident that our report contains all the relevant factual information gathered by my investigative team concerning Secretary-General Annan and his son," Volcker said, referring to Kojo Annan, who has been implicated for getting special treatment on Oil-for-Food contracts for a Swiss company where he was employed.
"It is only the inferences drawn from those facts that are subject to different conclusions and where two former staff members may have disagreed. However, it is the committee’s responsibility to draw the conclusions from the facts that we believe are most appropriate. In any event, at the end of the day, the facts must speak for themselves," Volcker said.
Volcker noted that in his letter responding to Shays', he cited the need to proceed with congressional inquiries with caution "in order to preserve the integrity of our investigation."
"In keeping with protections afforded to investigatory bodies, including in the U.S., I stressed that, 'in particular, all investigations that confront serious allegations of fraud, corruption, misuse and mismanagement must enjoy a degree of secrecy as evidence is being gathered.' This issue goes to the heart of our ability to follow investigative leads and develop investigative information," Volcker said in the statement.
Volcker distributed copies not only of his response letter to Shays, but also the letter sent to him on Wednesday by Davis and Volcker's response to Davis' letter.
In his correspondence with the IIC and the United Nations, Davis notes that he had only about an hour to respond to the subpoena after it was issued on Friday. He said the committee instructed Parton not to tell either the IIC or the United Nations about the subpoena until he fully complied with it. That compliance occurred on Wednesday night. Davis noted that on Monday, he wrote to Volcker asking for direction on how Parton should respond to such a summons, among other things.
Click here to read Davis' correspondence (pdf file).
"Notwithstanding Mr. Parton's requests for such instructions, by letters dated May 2 and May 3, 2005 (attached), neither of you [Volcker or IIC counsel Susan Ringler] directed Mr. Parton to defy a congressional subpoena and, indeed, neither of you responded entirely to the two questions I asked," Davis wrote.
Volcker responded to Davis with his own letter on Thursday, saying he did not receive Davis' request for instruction or the copy of the subpoena until that day, May 5.
"Most disturbingly, if Mr. Parton did in fact produce IIC related records, this was done without any discussion with the IIC," Volcker wrote. "Mr. Parton's production of any IIC related documents violated his individual confidentiality agreements with the IIC and the U.N."
Volcker went on to say that the IIC and U.N. did in fact answer Davis' questions but that the lawyer "chose to ignore" that direction, calling him "disingenuous."
"The committee is reviewing this matter and its options," he added.
Last week, a spokesman for Volcker denied he was invoking diplomatic immunity (search) to protect the panel or the United Nations, saying the calls to the committees were made out of "courtesy."
Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was appointed last year by Annan to head up the investigative panel into the Oil-for-Food program. So far, Volcker's panel has released two interim reports that say the program suffered from mismanagement and raise questions about the role of Kojo Annan. A final report is expected to be released this summer.
After the release of the second report, Parton and Duncan resigned as investigators, objecting to the committee's handling of Annan's dealings with Cotecna.
"Contrary to recent published reports, I resigned my position as senior investigative counsel for the IIC not because my work was complete but on principle," Parton told The Associated Press in a statement at the time of his resignation.
FOX News' Jonathan Hunt and Per Carlson contributed to this report.