Pentagon IG: Defense official could face criminal charges

Report identifies several former Pentagon leaders as central to the tanker deal, as well as current acquisition chief, Michael Wynne.

At least one current or former Defense Department official could face criminal charges as a result of a Pentagon inspector general's investigation into the Air Force's tainted deal to lease 100 KC-767 aerial refueling tankers from Boeing Co.

Inspector General Joseph Schmitz declined to identify the official, saying only that his office may refer the name to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Schmitz's office on Tuesday released a 256-page report on the investigation, coinciding with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter, considered the largest procurement scandal in decades.

The report identifies several former Pentagon leaders as central to the tanker deal, including Defense acquisition chief Edward (Pete) Aldridge, Air Force Secretary James Roche and Air Force acquisition secretary Marvin Sambur. The department's current acquisition chief, Michael Wynne, also is named.

Already, the deal has resulted in criminal convictions of two top Boeing executives, Darleen Druyun and Michael Sears. Druyun in particular is considered the mastermind behind the plan, using her job in Air Force acquisition to negotiate the overpriced lease before taking a lucrative Boeing job. "She didn't operate in a vacuum," Schmitz said.

The two-hour hearing capped nearly three years of investigations prodded by the committee, the only one of the four congressional defense committees to disapprove of the deal.

While panel members congratulated Schmitz on the extensive report, some questioned whether the inspector general was too liberal in redacting 45 sections of the report, including e-mails between key players.

The report also blacks out the names of several government aides. For instance, in one e-mail sent Jan. 19 from Roche to Schmitz, the names of a lawmaker and several administration officials who championed the $23.5 billion plan have been erased.

"There is no legal authority that would conceivably justify the redaction of this material from the report," Armed Services ranking member Carl Levin, D-Mich., said. Schmitz said he made all decisions about whether to delete material, although the report includes footnotes stating that the White House counsel intended "to invoke an agreement between members of Congress and the White House" not to reveal names and e-mails of lawmakers and senior White House officials. The independent inspector general did not have to abide by that agreement.

Armed Services Airland Subcommittee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., has driven the investigation into the tanker deal and appeared generally pleased with the results of the investigation, potentially the most damaging of all reviews into the deal.

But McCain did express concern that the inspector general's office was unable to reach Aldridge, who directed acquisition staff to circumvent traditional procurement procedures for major defense programs, according to the report.

McCain recommended subpoenaing Aldridge, but Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said they would first ask the former acquisition chief to appear voluntarily. McCain intends to follow up on the entire tanker issue with a subcommittee hearing, a Senate aide said.