- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Prince venue

Erik Prince, the former U.S. Navy Seal and millionaire founder and owner of Blackwater USA, will testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday about claims that his private security firm participated in the killings of Iraqi civilians.

Mr. Prince “will be testifying” before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, Inside the Beltway was told yesterday by a Blackwater official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Blackwater will still maintain it has done nothing wrong,” the official said. “We only fire defensive shots, and that’s the truth.”

Meanwhile, the official expressed concern that Blackwater is being purposely drawn by Democrats further into the partisan debate and scuffling on Capitol Hill over the war in Iraq.

“This is nothing but a campaign being waged against us. It’s insane, we’re being roped into the debate,” the official said. “The truth of the matter is that all of the claims against us are coming out of the [Iraqi] Interior Ministry, which is known to be corrupt.”

Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf was quoted as saying that Blackwater is implicated in at least six questionable shooting incidents in the same amount of months while providing security in Iraq.

Mr. Prince could face major obstacles during his testimony Tuesday. The State Department has ordered the company not to disclose certain “documents and information” about its Iraqi operations without clearance from the Bush administration.

Lee treasures

How many historical treasures can be squeezed into a pair of old wooden trunks?

Archivists with the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) have spent three years poring over and cataloging the contents of two dust-covered treasure chests discovered not long ago in the basement of Alexandria’s Burke & Herbert Bank and Trust Co. Founded in 1852, it is the oldest bank in Virginia.

Incredibly, the pair of trunks belonged to Mary Custis Lee, eldest daughter of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“Since his death, researchers have lamented that Robert E. Lee never wrote a memoir. But … this collection contains numerous letters and notes in the hand of Robert E. Lee reflecting on his long career,” boasts the VHS.

Among the contents: an 1860 letter Lee wrote to Secretary of War John B. Floyd concerning relations between Mexico and the United States; an 1863 order from Lee, in his own hand, announcing the death of Civil War Gen. Stonewall Jackson; accounts from the 1760s and 1770s kept by George Washington concerning his stepchildren; an 1824 letter from George Washington Parke Custis, the builder of Arlington House, where Lee lived up until the start of the Civil War; an 1872 letter from former Arlington House slave Selina Gray to Mary Randolph Custis Lee; and a list of 266 African-American slaves owned by John Parke Custis in 1766.

VHS librarian Frances Pollard said one woman was so touched when she read one of the letters written by Lee to his daughter that she had tears in her eyes.

Better yet, E. Lee Shepard, director of manuscripts for the society, will lecture on the “Hidden Treasures of the Mary Custis Lee Trunks” at 7 p.m. on Oct. 18 at the Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden at 614 Oronoco St. in Old Town Alexandria, just across the street from Lee’s childhood home.

Seating is limited, andreservations are required. Call 703/548-1789.

Endless cycle

We see newly announced Senate candidate and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is already the focus of a fundraising appeal from Charles E. Schumer, the senior senator from New York and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Mr. Schumer is calling for “early support” to help Mr. Warner finance campaign ads and grass-roots efforts and fight the inevitable “right-wing attacks.”

Ouch!

“If you can’t win, cheat.”

So charges Democratic National Committee Chairman and one-time presidential candidate Howard Dean, warning Democrats that if Republicans “get what they’re after, it could cost us the White House.”

He is referring to what he calls “Republican operatives,” including some Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who opposed the 2004 presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, working to place an election reform proposition on the California’s June ballot.

Mr. Dean agrees that election reform “is a good thing,” except when the results “essentially hand over 20 of the state’s electoral votes before the elections even begin next November.”

California, as the chairman knows all too well, awards its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes, meaning all Democrats in the past four elections. Republicans, he says, want the rules changed to award one electoral vote for each congressional district that a presidential candidate wins. In 2004, that would have given President Bush 19 of Mr. Kerry’s 55 votes.

John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

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