No Comment — November 15, 2007, 6:52 am

The Cookie Crumbles

The role of the inspector general is to be an independent guard against corruption inside of the agency he serves. The inspector general should observe ethical standards higher than the mainstream, and should be a watchdog and a friend of the whistleblower. But not in Bushworld. George W. Bush introduced a whole new species of inspector general. Across Washington, he carefully picked persons who were known for their fierce ideological loyalty to the G.O.P. and to him, rather than for independence and rectitude. The message was clear: create an impossible environment for whistleblowers; indeed, silence them. There are some good IG’s out there, of course: Glenn Fine at Justice is an example. But the examples of the other sort have proliferated.

And for weeks the State Department’s IG, Howard “Cookie” Krongard, has been under the microscope. He’s been denounced aggressively by his own staff, whose complaints launched an FBI probe. But Cookie has held on to his post, refusing to resign.

Back in law school, I was taught to forget Hollywood. All those dramatic crossexaminations in which the witness collapses under the strain of questioning–“It just doesn’t happen that way,” my professor said.
On rare occasion, however, it does. And one of those occasions was yesterday in a hearing room on Capitol Hill. The man asking the questions was House Oversight Committee Chair Henry Waxman, and the man in the crosshairs was Cookie Krongard.

The hottest issue for Krongard at the moment is the State Department’s extremely suspicious relationship with Blackwater. How could Krongard be running this probe when his own brother, former CIA Executive Director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, sits on Blackwater’s advisory board and has other close ties with the company? Here’s Cookie Krongard’s response to this question:

I can tell you very frankly, I am not aware of any financial interest or position he has with respect to Blackwater. It couldn’t possibly have affected anything I’ve done, because I don’t 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.

Except, of course, that the “ugly rumor” to which Cookie refers, that his brother sits on a Blackwater board, is absolutely true. Here’s Krongard’s exchange with Waxman after he took advantage of a break to “refresh” his memory about his brother’s relationship with Blackwater (he was informed that the Committee had already nailed him on the prevarication).

KRONGARD: This is in response to something I think you found important. During the break I did contact my brother. I reached him at home—he is not at the hotel. But I learned that he had been at the advisory board meeting yesterday. I had not been aware of that, and I want to state on the record right now that I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater.

WAXMAN: I see. You indicated you had called your brother to ask him earlier whether he was on the board. He told you he wasn’t.

KRONGARD: Well that was about six weeks ago, and I was not aware — and this board meeting happened yesterday, and I found out just during the break that he had in fact attended yesterday.

You can catch the video here. And an even deeper probe of the issue, by Rep. Stephen Lynch, is reported upon here.

Except, it turns out, Cookie’s second statement was also a lie.

TPM Muckraker’s Spencer Ackerman also called and interviewed Buzzy Krongard and learned that Buzzy had filled Cookie in on his Blackwater relationship.

Earlier today, the State Department inspector general repeatedly told the panel that he was unaware his brother, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, had joined the advisory board of State Department security contractor Blackwater. Krongard said he had a single phone conversation with his brother about the issue, in October, in which Buzzy didn’t tell Cookie he was joining the board. Only Buzzy says that’s not true.

In an exclusive interview with TPMmuckraker, Buzzy Krongard says that in that phone conversation, he specifically told Cookie Krongard he had agreed to join Blackwater’s advisory board. “I had told my brother I was going on the advisory board,” Buzzy Krongard says. “My brother says that is not the case. I stand by what I told my brother.”

Buzzy Krongard says the phone conversation was more recent than Cookie Krongard indicated to the committee. Cookie said it took place about five or six weeks ago. Buzzy says it was about two or three weeks ago. Both men say there was just one phone conversation.

Said ranking Republican Chris Shays: Cookie’s mid-hearing shift with respect to his brother’s Blackwater relationship “is a pretty outrageous thing.”

Yet again, the State Department’s internal handling of its Blackwater relationship is proving almost as big a scandal as the September 16 incident. It does leave one wondering who is the service provider, and who is the client? And a second question: are these IG’s watchdogs or lapdogs?

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