- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2011

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked the Pentagon inspector general to report whether Sen. Carl M. Levin is trying to influence the wording of a report that exonerates a Pentagon war-briefing program.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, cited a report by The Washington Times in his letter to Pentagon Inspector General Gordon Heddell on Thursday asking for a briefing to his staff “so that I may better understand your office’s examination of the Pentagon public affairs initiative in question.”

The Times reported Nov. 3 that Mr. Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has intervened through an aide who is talking to the inspector general about the report’s findings.

A source close to the inspector general’s probe told The Times the findings clear the Pentagon of any wrongdoing during the tenure of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld when it provided war briefings to retired military officers who served as commentators on TV and radio.

The findings also said the inspector general found no evidence the retired officers, some of whom were defense contractors, received Pentagon contracts because of their roles.

“Protecting the independence of the inspectors general is a committee priority,” Mr. Issa said in his letter to the Pentagon inspector general (IG). “Since 2009, the committee has examined a number of cases where the independence of an IG was undermined or otherwise threatened. With that precedent in mind, I was concerned when it was brought to my attention that your office may have been improperly pressured to include specific language in an investigative report.”

The letter referred to The Times report that the Levin staffer’s communications with the IG office were aimed to change the wording of the findings, according to the source close to the probe.

“If true, the effort described by the Washington Times appear to be an improper attempt to influence your work,” Mr. Issa wrote. “It is well understood by members of Congress and their staffs that it is the general practice of the IG community to brief requesters only on the methodology and progress of an investigation. Conversations about anticipated findings and other substantive aspects of an investigation are considered out of bounds until a report is finalized.”

Mr. Levin’s office declined to comment for The Times‘ Nov. 3 story, as did the IG press office.

In a follow up report on Fox News, Mr. Levin said his aide is communicating with the IG office to ensure it “fully addresses the allegations of impropriety.”

The IG’s first probe into the public affairs program found no wrongdoing. Mr. Levin complained in a private letter to then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, and the IG withdrew the report, saying it failed to capture all the retired officers who were also defense contractors.

Later, the Government Accountability Office also cleared the program. A Federal Communications Commission probe demanded by House Democrats has not produced any allegations of wrongdoing.

The fourth probe — and the inspector general’s second report — did not find that the Pentagon had violated any instructions or regulations.