State Department's Top Investigator Abruptly Recuses Himself From Blackwater Probe

The State Department's top investigator said Wednesday he is no longer involved in any inquiries related to Blackwater Worldwide after he told a congressional oversight panel that his brother is a member of the security contractor's advisory board.

Howard Krongard, the department's inspector general, first told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that his brother Alvin had assured him several weeks ago that he had no financial interest or connections to Blackwater, which is the subject of several federal investigations related to its work in Iraq.

After the committee returned from a brief break, however, Krongard said he had just called Alvin Krongard, a former top official at the CIA, and was told otherwise. Howard Krongard said his brother had attended a Blackwater strategic planning meeting Monday and Tuesday in Williamsburg, Va.

"I reached him at home; he is not at the hotel," Howard Krongard said. "But I learned he had been at the advisory board meeting yesterday. I had not been aware of that. I want to state on the record right now that I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater."

The reversal put Republicans who supported Krongard on the defensive and gave additional ammunition to Democrats who contend he has impeded State Department probes to protect Bush administration officials from political embarrassment.

"He has done you a tremendous damage," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told Krongard. "I don't know what kind of conversation you had with him, but I would have been one unhappy guy."

Krongard maintained he never interfered with any investigations, and he blamed allegations that he did on a dysfunctional office that he was attempting to transform.

Krongard said he has no political ties and has never communicated with anyone in the White House since he took the job nearly two and half years ago.

Before the break, committee Democrats produced a July 26 letter from Blackwater CEO Erik Prince inviting Alvin Krongard to join his company's advisory board. The board would offer advice on the paths Blackwater should take to expand its business.

"Your experience and insight would be ideal to help our team determine where we are and where we are going," Prince said.

Expenses for attending board meetings would be paid and board members would receive a $3,500 honorarium for each meeting attended.

But Krongard said his brother had assured him that he had no conflicts of interest.

"I'm not my brother's keeper," Krongard said when he was pressed to explain how he could have been unaware of the connection.

Blackwater, which has a major State Department contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, is the target of a probe into allegations its employees smuggled weapons into Iraq. Federal investigators also continue to examine a Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad involving Blackwater guards that killed 17 Iraqis.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and others had suggested Alvin Krongard's ties to Blackwater were the main reason Howard Krongard sidelined the State Department's probe into weapons smuggling charges.

Waxman has accused Krongard, a Republican political appointee, of politicizing the inspector general's office at the State Department by interfering with ongoing investigations.

"At 65 years of age, I came to office with no aspiration for any further position and with no agenda other than to do the best job I could of carrying out the specific mission prescribed for me by senior management at the State Department at that time: namely, to restore the capabilities of an IG office that had fallen into disrepair, and was known to have dissension and rivalries, and to make it more efficient, more professional and more relevant to a dynamic post-9/11 world environment," Krongard said in his opening statement.

In September, Waxman sent Krongard a 14-page letter detailing serious accusations against him lodged by seven current and former officials from his own office. They accused Krongard of preventing his staff from cooperating with Justice Department probes and refusing to send his staff to Iraq and Afghanistan to look into allegations of fraud and wasteful spending involving the more than $3.6 billion the State Department has spent on contracts in the two countries.

"I want to say in the strongest terms that I never impeded any investigation," Krongard told the committee.

While Waxman and other committee Democrats have been critical of Krongard's performance, the embattled inspector general has allies on the Republican side.

In a report by the committee's minority staff, Republican members accused the Democrats of "governing by personal attack."

The allegations against Krongard remain unsubstantiated and indicate only that Krongard had an "abrasive and abusive personality," they said.

"The majority's expenditure of time and taxpayer funds spent proving that the State Department IG is abrasive and abusive is itself an abuse of the committee's authority," the Republicans said.