WASHINGTON — Embattled State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard submitted his resignation Friday, forced out for allegedly impeding ongoing criminal investigations into the construction of a new, $740 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and security firm Blackwater Worldwide.
A State Department official said that Krongard had become a political liability, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, through aides, asked him this week to leave. The official insisted on anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak about personnel matters.
An abrasive attorney who once reportedly referred to himself as an "equal-opportunity abuser," Krongard came under fire from his own investigators and from a congressional panel for allegedly blocking probes into serious claims of wrongdoing in Iraq.
Those allegations include contract fraud and shoddy workmanship in the troubled Baghdad embassy and arms smuggling by North Carolina-based Blackwater.
Krongard initially vowed to fight the accusations against him. But his position collapsed at a House of Representatives hearing last month when he was asked whether his brother, former top CIA official Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, had accepted a position on a Blackwater advisory board. Krongard first denounced what he said were "ugly rumors," then, after telephoning his brother, reversed himself.
Only then did he recuse himself from any further supervision of the growing Blackwater investigation. (His brother subsequently resigned from the Blackwater post.) Krongard had also been asked by the Justice Department to withdraw from the investigation into the embassy construction scandal.
In a 2 1/2 page letter to President Bush, Krongard portrayed the decision to leave as his own and said he was departing with "a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment," but he also suggested that he was the victim of partisan politics.
He spoke of "the grave threat to public service posed by the current rancor and distrust between and among political parties, the legislative and executive branches of government, the media, and various interest groups."
In a separate statement, he declined comment on the charges that have swirled around him since mid-September.
Krongard, according to officials and documents, stopped his agents from assisting in the Justice Department's Blackwater probe; met individually with a State Department official and a contractor implicated in the embassy investigation, despite pleas that he not do so; and belittled underlings, causing many to leave or resign.
Krongard said he'd step down on Jan. 15, after the opening of a permanent State Department inspector general's office in the Middle East.
"We thank him for his dedication to public service," said State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.
Krongard is the second major casualty in the spreading controversy over Rice's management of department activities in Iraq.
Richard Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, quit in late October amid a furor over a Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad by Blackwater employees which left 17 Iraqis dead.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement: "Mr. Krongard's decision removes an enormous distraction from the Inspector General's office and will allow the office to focus on its important oversight responsibilities."
The State Department's inspector general is supposed to investigate criminal wrongdoing, audit contracts and inspect the agency's embassies and missions worldwide.
But current and former investigators told Waxman's committee that Krongard repeatedly blocked them from doing their jobs aggressively.
In an e-mail to his staff sent Friday and obtained by McClatchy, Krongard referred to the turmoil in his office. "I . . . ask you, frankly, to make an effort to reduce the static that interferes with the harmony we would like to achieve," he wrote.
In July 2007, Krongard ordered aides to halt work on an investigation of Blackwater arms smuggling to Iraq and demanded a meeting with Justice Department prosecutors. At that meeting, he disparaged the probe and ordered a close personal aide to keep tabs on it, according to e-mails obtained by the committee and U.S. officials.
Five days before Krongard met with Justice, Buzzy Krongard was offered the position on the Blackwater advisory board.
As of last week, Justice Department investigators still haven't received the State Department contract documents they requested, the officials said.