Brother's role forces exit of Blackwater investigator

November 15, 2007|By David Wood | David Wood,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Howard Krongard, the embattled State Department inspector general who is accused of blocking investigations into security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, abruptly recused himself from all Blackwater inquiries yesterday after a congressional panel confronted him with evidence that his brother is serving on a company advisory board.

The spreading Blackwater scandal involves allegations that its armed security guards, under contract to the State Department to guard diplomats in Iraq, killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September. The results of an FBI investigation, which reportedly found that the Blackwater guards acted rashly and without obvious provocation, are under review at the State Department.

Krongard's elder brother, A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard, was chief executive of Alex. Brown & Sons in Baltimore before serving in the No. 3 position at the CIA.

Testifying under oath before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, Howard Krongard at first denied as an "ugly rumor" that his brother had any financial interest or position with Blackwater. "I specifically asked him," Krongard insisted.

But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, produced a letter from Blackwater chairman Erik Prince asking "Buzzy" Krongard to serve on the firm's advisory board.

When Howard Krongard disputed it, Cummings went on, producing an e-mail sent from Blackwater to his brother, dated Sept. 5, that said, "Welcome and thank you for accepting the invitation to be a member of the board."

Cummings also observed that the Blackwater board was meeting in Williamsburg, Va., this week, "as we speak."

Howard Krongard, 67, was known as "Cookie" while a student at City College and later at Princeton. An international lawyer, he was appointed, with no previous government experience, as the State Department's top investigator in 2005. His brother served from 1998 until 2004 as counsel and executive director of the CIA under George Tenet, the previous director. In the 1950s, he was a championship lacrosse player at City College and Princeton.

Howard Krongard returned from a break in the hearing yesterday, saying he had contacted his brother, who confirmed his relationship with Blackwater. He said he would immediately recuse himself from all Blackwater investigations.

Reached yesterday evening at his home in Lutherville, the elder Krongard, 71, confirmed that he attended his first meeting of the Blackwater board of advisers Monday night and Tuesday. He denied any conflict of interest between his position on the board and his brother's service as State Department inspector general. "Why would there be a conflict?" he said. "My brother operates independently of me, as I do of him.

"Maybe there is an appearance of a conflict of interest," he said.

The House committee opened an investigation of Krongard's tenure at the State Department this fall, including allegations that he blocked Justice Department investigations into waste and fraud in connection with the construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and that he refused to work with the department on a probe of Blackwater for alleged arms smuggling, according to a report issued yesterday by the committee's majority staff.

The embassy construction is behind schedule, $144 million over cost "and has potentially life-threatening construction deficiencies," the committee's chairman, Democrat Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, said yesterday.

"Billions of dollars are at stake" in this and other investigations into waste and fraud in Iraq and the alleged abuse by Blackwater, Waxman said. "That underscores why Mr. Krongard's office is so essential [and] why it needs to meet the highest standards."

Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, speaking for the committee's minority, dismissed the allegations against Krongard as "salacious" and "unproven."

In his testimony, Krongard also responded to criticism that he had been abusive to his staff. "I have been brusque. I have been shrill. I have been hard on people," he said. "I think `abusive' may be strong, because I don't intend to abuse anybody."

Krongard insisted that he agreed to be inspector general with no political agenda "other than to do the best job I could."

He said he has no political ties and has never spoken to the president or anyone else in the White House during his 2 1/2 years in Washington. He said he'd been to the White House "only as a tourist."

As testimony unfolded after to the disclosure yesterday, Cummings described the Blackwater investigations as "one of the most high-profile issues facing the State Department."

"I know you're sensitive to conflicts - would you agree that you should recuse yourself from anything dealing with Blackwater investigations?" Cummings asked Krongard.

Krongard responded: "Yes, sir."

Immediately? Cummings asked.

"Absolutely," said Krongard.

After learning of his brother's connection to Blackwater, Krongard told the committee: "I'm not my brother's keeper, and we do not discuss our business with each other."

He added, "We have gone to great lengths to keep our professional experiences separate, because of his position and because of my position."

A State Department spokesman said last night that he had no other comment on Krongard's testimony.

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