WASHINGTON — The State Department's embattled inspector general suddenly removed himself Wednesday from investigations into security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, after belatedly acknowledging that his brother sits on a Blackwater advisory board.
The revelation came at a House of Representatives hearing that cited allegations from current and former State Department employees — and the Justice Department — that Inspector General Howard Krongard had impeded investigations into Blackwater and the construction of the $740 million U.S. Embassy complex in Iraq.
The allegations before the Oversight and Government Reform Committee added to the questions about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's management of the massive U.S. diplomatic presence in Iraq and of the State Department in Washington.
Krongard initially said that he was unaware that his brother, former CIA executive director Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, had any financial ties with Blackwater. He said he'd asked his brother about "ugly rumors" concerning his relationship with Blackwater and had been assured there was none.
But after Democratic committee members told him that his brother had stayed at a Williamsburg, Va., hotel where Blackwater's "Worldwide Advisory Board" was meeting this week, Krongard used a break in the hearing to call his brother.
He said that Buzzy Krongard confirmed that he'd been at the meeting.
"I hereby recuse myself from any matters having to do with Blackwater," Howard Krongard announced.
Blackwater, which protects U.S. diplomats in Iraq, is under investigation for a series of lethal shootings of Iraqi civilians.
The revelation dismayed even Krongard's Republican defenders on the committee, who'd attempted to portray the probe by chairman Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., as partisan score-settling.
Your brother "has done you tremendous damage," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "I would be one pretty unhappy guy."
The advisory board role pays a $3,500 honorarium per meeting, according to Blackwater correspondence released by the committee.
It isn't known whether Buzzy Krongard accepted the honorarium. He didn't return a phone call seeking comment.
Current and former top investigators in Howard Krongard's office have alleged that Krongard blocked a criminal probe into allegations of weapons smuggling by Blackwater employees, as well as several investigations into fraud and corruption in the construction of the U.S. Embassy complex in Baghdad.
Krongard disputed the allegations and portrayed them as fallout from his attempts to reorder the office and disputes over investigative priorities and resources. He acknowledged that his management style was "brusque" and "shrill."
"I never nixed any investigations," he told the committee.
Krongard's accusers declined to testify publicly before the committee Wednesday. They'd been deposed by committee staff previously.
Waxman quoted the Justice Department as saying that, as of last Friday, the department still hadn't received documents that it requested for its investigation into the weapons smuggling allegations.
The Justice Department told the committee that Krongard's actions led to "a cumbersome and time-consuming investigative process" and "added multiple layers to our investigative efforts," Waxman said.
Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd declined to comment.
A 41-page report Waxman released also revealed that Krongard had met two individuals implicated in potential criminal activity involving the U.S. Embassy construction, despite warnings from his deputy and others not to do so.
Krongard met one of the individuals during a trip to Iraq in September, shortly after the individual had become a "subject of investigation," the report said. It quoted Krongard's deputy, William Todd, as advising him not to meet the person because "it would be questioned by our investigators and would, you know, give people cause to comment."
The individuals aren't named in the report. But at one point in the hearing, Krongard, perhaps inadvertently, referred to "Mr. Golden and Ms. French."
James L. Golden is a Washington-based State Department contractor charged with overseeing the embassy project. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker banned him from Iraq after he allegedly tried to alter the scene of a mortar explosion at the new embassy compound. Mary French is the Baghdad-based project coordinator for the embassy.
Krongard, who said his talks with the individuals "were not witness interviews," also disclosed that he's recused himself from investigations involving the Baghdad embassy, which he said was in response to the House committee's probe.
The two recusals raise questions about his effectiveness as State Department inspector general.