Krongard resigns from post at State

Inspector general is accused of hindering federal investigations of Blackwater security firm

December 08, 2007|By David Wood and Matthew Hay Brown | David Wood and Matthew Hay Brown,Sun Reporters

WASHINGTON -- Howard J. "Cookie" Krongard, the embattled State Department inspector general who is accused of hindering federal investigations of the Blackwater security firm in Iraq and who has engaged in a bitter public feud with his brother, Alvin B. "Buzzy" Krongard, resigned yesterday.

Dubbed by some in Washington as the "bickering brothers from Baltimore," "Cookie" Krongard, 66, a former international lawyer, and "Buzzy" Krongard, a former investment banker and senior CIA official, traded accusations last month over whether the State Department inspector general knew that "Buzzy" was serving on an advisory board of Blackwater USA, currently under investigation by the State and Justice departments.

In a letter to President Bush announcing his retirement, "Cookie" Krongard, who is facing scrutiny by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, said he is leaving the job, effective Jan. 15, "with a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment."

But he complained about the "grave threat" posed to the nation by "the current rancor and distrust" in Washington among the political parties, Congress, the executive branch and the news media.

In a brief statement, State Department spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said, "We thank him for his dedication to public service, and we wish him well in future endeavors." Krongard's attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, had no comment.

"Buzzy" Krongard, 71, retired in 2004 as executive director of the CIA, the agency's third-highest position, and joined the advisory board of Blackwater USA this fall.

"You're kidding!" "Buzzy" exclaimed on being told the news of the resignation.

"I swear I don't have a clue" as to why it came now, said the elder Krongard. "Obviously, we haven't been on the best of terms.

"I feel sorry for him and sorry for the country ... if he was doing a good job," he added.

Apart from a probe into alleged arms smuggling, Blackwater is under investigation for allegations that its security guards in Baghdad killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians in September.

"Cookie" Krongard, called to testify Nov. 14 before the House committee, heatedly denied that he had used his position to impede an investigation of Blackwater. He dismissed suggestions of his brother's involvement with Blackwater as "ugly rumors."

"Buzzy" Krongard, watching the hearing on TV at home, remarked at the time, "You could have blown me over." In a phone call to the committee, he said he had clearly told his brother about agreeing to serve on the Blackwater advisory board.

Under questioning at the hearing by Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, "Cookie" Krongard insisted he did not know of his brother's involvement with Blackwater. After being shown e-mails and other evidence by Cummings, he immediately recused himself from further involvement with the Blackwater case. The following day, he admitted that he was wrong, that "Buzzy" Krongard did, in fact, serve on a Blackwater board.

The two brothers have since publicly traded bitter accusations about who said what to whom, and when. In the ensuing uproar, "Buzzy" Krongard resigned from the Blackwater board.

Cummings said that "Cookie" Krongard "is finally demonstrating sound judgment" by leaving his State Department position.

He said Krongard had "severely weakened the credibility and appearance of impartiality" of the inspector general's office.

Krongard had been accused by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the oversight committee, of a broad pattern of mismanagement and abuse. Waxman said Krongard's resignation "removes an enormous distraction from the inspector general's office."

Waxman did not say whether the committee would continue to pursue the Krongards. A hearing scheduled for last week would have brought the two brothers together to testify on their various roles in the Blackwater case.

But it was postponed last week without explanation.

"I anticipate that we will follow the investigation to its reasonable end," said Cummings, a senior member of the committee.

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, a committee member, also vowed to "continue to pursue our investigation of Blackwater as well as the failures of the inspector general's office to fully investigate allegations of corruption in Iraq."

Van Hollen said he knew of no "deal" that would explain Krongard's resignation.

A committee report said last month that Krongard had refused his staff's recommendations to investigate alleged waste and fraud involving construction of the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which is running $144 million over cost. The report said he had actively impeded investigations into Blackwater and a second set of allegations involving a $1 billion contract with DynCorp for training Iraqi and Afghan police.

The committee report also accused Krongard of having an "abusive" management style. Krongard, who said he came to the job three years ago with no government or political experience, told the committee last month: "I have never impeded any investigation."

He acknowledged that he "clashed" with staff members.

In his resignation letter, Krongard said he feared that the current rancorous atmosphere in Washington would dissuade "many of the most qualified prospective public servants across the country from serving."

But his brother, "Buzzy" Krongard, who served at the CIA from 1998 until 2004, dismissed that notion. "It kind of goes with the territory," he said of the public scrutiny of government officials.

david.wood@baltsun.com

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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