- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2002

President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday delivered votes of confidence for Army Secretary Thomas White amid a probe into whether the Army conducted backdoor lobbying for a weapon the Pentagon planned to cancel.
Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters that Mr. White played no role in a subordinate's faxing of "talking points" to House members criticizing a pending decision by Mr. Rumsfeld to terminate the $11 billion Crusader howitzer program.
"He had no knowledge or awareness of the talking points," the defense secretary told a Pentagon press conference. He also said, "Yes I do. I certainly have confidence in Secretary White."
He answered "my goodness no" when asked if he planned to force Mr. White to resign, as USA Today reported yesterday. A defense source said Mr. Rumsfeld dispatched a copy of the article earlier in the day to Mr. White with an initialed note saying the story was untrue.
Pentagon officials said last week they intended to cancel the Crusader. A formal announcement was scheduled for today. Mr. White, who waged a battle inside the Pentagon to save the artillery system, would not be asked to make the announcement, the source said.
"I think the fight now shifts to the Hill," the official said. "White is not happy, but he's a good soldier."
The Washington Times reported yesterday that a civilian in the Army's legislative affairs office made the decision on May 1 to fax a draft "talking points" document to some lawmakers. The fax came the day after Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz had informed Mr. White that the Pentagon planned to cancel the Crusader in favor of more advanced targeting technology. Sources told The Times last week that Mr. White played no role in drafting or sending the document.
Mr. White ordered the Army inspector general's office to conduct an investigation.
Mr. White, a retired one-star general and decorated Vietnam combatant, also won an endorsement from the commander in chief.
"The president has confidence in Army Secretary White. He thinks he's doing a good job in his post," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said yesterday.
The White House recruited Mr. White, a former aide to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, to take over the Army and help transform it into a lighter, agile force able to respond to multiple threats.
But Mr. White has been buffeted by a series of controversies, some of which stem from his top executive position at failed energy giant Enron in Houston.
Congressional Democrats peppered him with questions over stock transactions and his contacts with former Enron colleagues as the company was foundering. Mr. White said his communications with ex-Enron employees were calls of compassion and did not involve any inside information on stock prices.
The Pentagon inspector general was investigating two official trips during which Mr. White handled personal affairs. Mr. White said he followed all Defense Department guidelines on the trips.
Mr. Rumsfeld blamed the Crusader lobbying on "someone with an overactive thyroid [who] seemed to get his hands and his mouth ahead of his brain. And that happens in life. And it certainly was not Secretary White."
The Pentagon is expected to divulge the IG report's conclusions this week. Once that issue is out of the way, Mr. Rumsfeld must fight a new battle: convincing Congress to terminate a jobs-producing weapons system.


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