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Auditor at State accused of threats

He told staffers they could be fired if they helped a congressional inquiry, a Southland Democrat alleges.

September 29, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

washington -- A top Democratic lawmaker has accused the State Department's chief auditor of threatening to fire senior officials in his office if they cooperated with a congressional investigation into alleged corruption by private contractors in Iraq.

The allegations are the latest in an increasingly contentious standoff between Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), head of a key congressional oversight committee, and the State Department auditor, Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. Krongard has been accused of blocking multiple government investigations into contractor misconduct.

Earlier this month, Waxman wrote to Krongard to ask that his staff be made available for interviews in order to determine whether allegations against Krongard had merit. Those included charges that Krongard had stymied a criminal probe into whether private security group Blackwater USA had illegally smuggled arms into Iraq.

In a letter sent to Krongard on Friday, Waxman said that the inspector general and his aides told senior staffers that they could lose their jobs if they cooperated with the committee's investigation.

"I am appalled by these reports," Waxman wrote. "Your office is supposed to be an example of how to protect whistle- blowers, not an example of how to persecute them."

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said that he had not seen Waxman's letter, but that Krongard would address any allegations made against him when he testified before the committee, which he is expected to do next month.

"Certainly I am not aware . . . that we have any information that would substantiate those allegations," Casey said at a daily State Department briefing. "But to the extent that these are issues and concerns that have been raised, we certainly want to see them addressed."

In his new letter, Waxman said two State Department investigators -- special agent Ron Militana and assistant special agent in charge Brian Rubendall -- had agreed to testify that they were threatened by Krongard aides. Militana kept "contemporaneous notes of these interchanges" and has agreed to provide the notes to the committee, the letter states.

According to Waxman's letter, the notes say Krongard's congressional liaison told Militana to "never do a voluntary interview in a million years."

"You have no protection against reprisal," Militana's notes state, according to Waxman. "You have no whistle-blower protections. Howard [Krongard] could retaliate and you would have no recourse."

The congressional liaison also allegedly told Militana that Krongard could fire him and that it would affect Militana's ability to get another job.

--

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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