Waxman blasted for handling of State IG probe

A senior House Republican Wednesday blasted House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman's tactics in his investigation of State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, even as another panel explored the need for legislation to boost the independence of Krongard's office.

In a letter to Waxman, Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Tom Davis, R-Va., accused Waxman of making "grossly exaggerated and inflammatory charges" in a Sept. 28 letter asserting Krongard's aides threatened to retaliate against office employees who made accusations about Krongard. The employees have said Krongard blocked investigations into State Department operations for political reasons.

At issue is a Sept. 25 meeting held to advise two of the whistle-blowers, investigators Ron Militana and Brian Rubendall, on their options for speaking with committee staff. The investigators say Terri Heide, the inspector general's congressional liaison, pressured them to insist on depositions with the committee rather than agree to interviews.

Committee rules limit the majority's ability to publicize deposition transcripts without consulting the minority.

According to Waxman, the agents said Heide, with a lawyer from the office of the inspector general present, also told them, "Howard can fire you" -- a statement they took as a threat. Heide has told CongressDaily she was only advising them of their legal position.

In his letter to Waxman, Davis wrote that Rubendall told committee aides in an Oct. 11 interview that he was "never told not to cooperate," or to withhold information.

According to the House panel's minority counsel, Keith Ausbrook, Rubendall maintains that he felt threatened at the time. But when asked if he misunderstood Heide's intent, Rubendall said that was "entirely possible."

Militana stands by his account, Ausbrook said.

The committee's majority and minority staffs have battled for months over what Republicans say is the Democrats' tendency to pressure witnesses to agree to voluntary interviews and to publicize information without sufficiently vetting it.

But Davis' letter represents a rebuke of Waxman. While Davis often questions the committee's investigations, he regularly mentions his strong relationship with the chairman.

"The transcript [of Rubendall's interview] has been available for a week, but I have not seen any effort on your part to reconsider your accusations [of threats made to the whistle-blowers] or the propriety of [publicly] disclosing the one-sided and unquestioned statements to your staff," Davis wrote.

"As a result you may have ruined the reputation and career of an innocent person," he said, referring to Heide.

Waxman stood by his actions. "Tom Davis almost always makes good points," Waxman said in a statement. "But this, unfortunately, isn't one of them. The record doesn't support his letter and will show very clearly that several employees felt threatened."

Davis' letter came a day after Krongard issued a partial public defense of his tenure. While declining to comment on specific charges, Krongard said that a limited budget and small staff curtailed his ability to send investigators abroad.

Krongard's contention was cited Wednesday by House Foreign Affairs Oversight Subcommittee Chairman William Delahunt, D-Mass., in a hearing on the State Department IG's office. Delahunt concurred with a Government Accountability Office report that says the department IG is underfunded and for decades has lacked sufficient independence from State Department management.

Delahunt said he plans to introduce legislation to implement a series of GAO recommendations. Steps include increasing the office's budget and eliminating a law, annually waived by Congress, requiring the inspector general to regularly inspect overseas bureaus.

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