Senator reveals Air Force-Boeing e-mail exchanges, demands accountability

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stood on the Senate floor Friday and read e-mail exchanges between Boeing Co., executives and Air Force officials that he said revealed an improper relationship aimed at securing a $30 billion tanker lease deal.

In a floor speech, McCain entered the documents into the Congressional Record as he demanded accountability from top Air Force leaders for lying to Congress while pursuing a deal to lease and buy 100 KC-767 aerial refueling tankers. He cited a body of evidence in the form of internal e-mail exchanges and memos that he said reveal impropriety and a lack of ethics in negotiating the lease.

"This appears to be a case of either a systemic failure in procurement oversight, willful blindness or rank corruption," McCain said. "Either way, accountability among Air Force leadership is in order."

McCain's actions ended months of silence regarding the contents of thousands of internal government documents related to the Air Force's contentious plan to lease Boeing aerial refueling tankers. Over the past two years McCain has unearthed thousands of e-mail exchanges between Boeing executives and government officials revealing the lengths to which Boeing and the Air Force went to secure the lease.

The Bush administration produced more than 800,000 internal documents over the past few months requested by the Senate Armed Services Committee on which McCain is a senior member. The panel has received 3,000 of the communications, a number of which McCain said show senior Air Force officials misrepresented to Congress their role in securing the deal.

During testimony before the committee in February 2002, Air Force Secretary James Roche assured the panel he believed in full and open competition in acquiring the tanker aircraft. But in his floor statement McCain said Roche's e-mails indicate he favored Boeing over its European rival, EADS North America.

In a September 2002 e-mail to Raytheon executive William Swanson Roche wrote, "Privately between us: Go Boeing!" and about EADS North America chief Ralph Crosby, "The widespread feelings about Crosby in the Air Staff, [Gen. John] Jumper especially, will only make their life more difficult."

In a subsequent e-mail to Darleen Druyun, then the Air Force's acquisition deputy, Roche spoke of torturing Crosby "slowly over the next few years until EADS got rid of him!"

Other e-mails confirm Roche brought pressure to bear on top Pentagon officials critical of the lease.

In testimony a year later before the committee, Roche denied asking Boeing to lean on acting Pentagon acquisition chief Michael Wynne to support the deal. But when Boeing lobbyist Paul Weaver offered to deal with Wynne in a May 2003 e-mail to Roche, McCain says the Air Force secretary accepted.

"It's time for the big guns to quash Wynne!" and "Wynne needs to pay the appropriate price!" McCain said Roche wrote in the e-mail.

The deal is now on hold and despite McCain's inquiry -- and myriad government and independent probes into the lease proposal that have criticized almost every aspect of it -- only two top Boeing executives have been held accountable. Former chief financial officer Michael Sears pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to helping Druyun land a lucrative job with the company. Druyun, who last month was sentenced to nine months in prison, admitted to favoring Boeing in at least four contract negotiations, including the tanker deal.

Roche and his acquisition chief, Marvin Sambur, resigned their posts earlier this week under a cloud of controversy surrounding the deal.

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