The Pentagon's inspector general has released his final report on a Donald H. Rumsfeld-era program for briefing TV and radio military analysts, concluding for a second time that there was no wrongdoing.
The three-year investigation by the inspector general marks the fourth time a federal agency has found no improper conduct in the program.
The probes involved some of Washington's most influential voices.
There was a powerful journalism institution. The investigations were spurred by a 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times story that strongly implied the practice of giving briefings to retired military analysts (RMAs) violated Pentagon rules against propaganda. The story also suggested the ex-officers, some of whom worked as defense contractors, received financial favors from the Pentagon because of their roles.
There was Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin, who pressed the inspector general to find that the program was improper.
And there were the analysts themselves, some war heroes, boasting three and four stars during long military careers, who went on the air to comment on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. They repeatedly denied they had done anything wrong.
In the end, no agency found wrongdoing.
The first inspector general's report, in 2009, said the briefing program was legitimate.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' auditing arm, later said the program followed regulations.
Democrats pressed the Federal Communications Commission to find that the analysts had violated federal law, but the FCC has issued no report.
Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat, pressed Pentagon Inspector General Gordon S. Heddell for another probe, and his findings were just released.
On the main issue, the new report says: "We found that the [Pentagon public affairs office] conducted the RMA outreach activities in compliance with policy and regulation."
On the second issue of whether the retired officers gained financially, the report concludes: "Based on interviews, we did not identify that the RMA outreach activities provided a financial benefit to those RMAs affiliated with a defense contractor. Our review of relevant procurement ethics rules and regulations identified nothing that would preclude the RMAs with such an affiliation from participating in the events."
On possible wrongdoing cited in the 2008 New York Times story, the report says: "We also reviewed the specific examples mentioned in the New York Times article. Based on our interviews, we did not find that the RMA outreach participants used the RMA outreach activities to further their own or the affiliated Defense contractor's interests."
Mr. Levin's spokeswoman had no comment Thursday.
The Washington Times reported Sept. 24 that a draft report had cleared the briefings' participants of wrongdoing.
The Times also reported Nov. 3 that Mr. Levin had intervened in the probe via a senior aide who, according to a source close to the investigation, was communicating with the inspector general's office in an effort to get some findings changed.
Mr. Levin did not comment to The Times but later acknowledged the contacts to Fox News.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is conducting a review to determine whether there was an attempt to influence the inspector general.
Said retired Army Col. Ken Allard, one of the investigated military analysts: "Where do we go to have our reputations restored after four federal investigations and who knows how many millions spent? I meant every word of that letter I sent to Issa: This was a media-political cabal of congressional Democrats and the New York Times. And, oh, by the way, it turned out that, just as in war, the first reports were wrong."
Said Keith Urbahn, spokesman for former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: "Two things ought to happen, though they never will. One, the New York Times should give back its Pulitzer for a story that is now proven to be a fabrication. And two, Sen. Carl Levin should reimburse U.S. taxpayers for what must be the millions of dollars squandered in pursuit of repeated investigations that he ordered to fit his partisan agenda. And while they're at it, the New York Times and the senator from Michigan ought to apologize to the uniformed military officers whose reputations were maligned by their attacks."
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