- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

The Environmental Protection Agency today will begin confiscating files that may be embarrassing to its administrator, Christie Whitman, according to an agency investigator.
Ombudsman Robert J. Martin is investigating a possible financial conflict of interest between Mrs. Whitman's husband and polluters at two cleanup sites, said Hugh B. Kaufman, chief investigator for the ombudsman.
Mr. Martin's investigative files have been under a protective court order since Jan. 11, but the order was rescinded April 12. Mr. Martin sought continued protection of the files in an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, but that decision will not be made until Friday.
"Whitman's office told the inspector general to seize [Mr. Martins] files immediately, and that's what they are in the middle of right now," Mr. Kaufman said, accusing officials of using the small window of opportunity during which the files are unprotected to see what the ombudsman has uncovered.
Mrs. Whitman has ordered a bureaucratic shuffle, combining the independent ombudsman's office with the inspector general's office, effectively ending the ombudsman's investigation.
The former New Jersey governor directed the move to be completed by Monday, and the inventory must be completed by today. Under the reshuffle, Mr. Martin is being assigned to answer a hot line. He plans to resign in protest, Mr. Kaufman said
Gary L. Johnson, assistant inspector general said he spoke with an official in Mrs. Whitman's office after the court rescinded the protective order last Friday.
The official "made it very clear the goal of the administrator was to complete the relocation of the ombudsman function to the [inspector generals office] no later than April 22," said the e-mail.
"We need to complete this inventory no later than Thursday to effect the physical move of ombudsman staff and records by Monday 4/22 as discussed with the administrator's office," the e-mail said.
The EPA did not return a call for comment.
While Mr. Martin was out of town yesterday, employees from the agency's inspector general's office entered his office at 8 a.m. and attempted to remove the files.
They were turned away by another employee for not having proper paperwork. The inspector general staff said they would return in the afternoon, but the file inventory was delayed until today.
FBI agents interviewed Mr. Kaufman last week regarding the ombudsman's investigation of the potential conflicts of interest.
"One thing I was told to do was to go through those files and make copies of our primary source to help the FBI. Now I can't do that," Mr. Kaufman said.
John Whitman, Mrs. Whitman's husband, is the managing partner of a venture capital firm controlled by Citicorp, a subsidiary of Citigroup.
Additionally, Citigroup stock valued between $100,000 and $250,000 are listed in Mrs. Whitman's financial disclosure statement.
Citigroup is responsible for the original botched cleanup of the Shattuck Superfund site in Colorado and will pay one-fifth of the $35 million cost. A Citigroup financial partner is also responsible for the cleanup at the Marjol Battery in Pennsylvania.
Also under investigation were mishandled pollution cleanups by the EPA during both the Clinton and current Bush administrations, including air quality issues at the ruins of the World Trade Center.
Mr. Martin's investigations are supported by Senate Republicans and House Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who has asked the ombudsman office to investigate air quality at ground zero, criticized the move.
"They are files that provide damning evidence against her performance as administrator, and the sooner she can control those files and take them out of the hands of the ombudsman, the sooner a coverup of the facts can begin," the New York Democrat said.
Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, is sponsoring legislation to make the ombudsman completely independent of the EPA and answerable to Congress.
His spokesman criticized attempts to gain control of the files but said they are pleased the issue is starting to gather bipartisan support.
"For more than a year now, the Democratic-controlled Senate has stood idly by while this important legislation was ready to move," said Sean Conway, Mr. Allard's spokesman. "Senator Allard believes these actions might spur our Democratic leadership to take this issue seriously."

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