The Vermont Senator Says We Are Otherwise On Track to Send a Full Trillion with No Oversight Adequate to Control Waste, Fraud and Abuse...
By Margie Burns on 3/20/2007, 1:07pm PT  

Guest Blogged by BRAD BLOG's D.C. correspondent Margie Burns

"We don't have a law that would make war profiteering specifically a federal crime," Sen. Leahy (D-VT) said in this morning's efficient hearing conducted by the Senate Judiciary Committee, so he is introducing one.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is busy these days --- what with the scandal over White House manipulations of the prosecutorial function of the Department of Justice, the continuing scandals of war profiteering in the "war on terror," and other oversight matters, the Committee is in jeopardy of being overstretched. In fact, it already is overstretched.

The room was full for this morning's hearing, which I attended, on "Combating War Profiteering," but, as with last week's House Oversight Comittee hearings with Valerie Plame et al, this one was also scantly attended by GOP'ers. Of Republicans, only the co-chair of the committee Arlen Specter (R-PA) and --- to do him justice --- Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) graced the hearing with their presence. The co-chair could do no less, and indeed did little, though I noticed that both he and Leahy alluded to their past jobs as prosecutors, from which it can safely be inferred that they too think the current manipulations of US Attorneys --- prosecutors --- by the DOJ look very bad...

Actually that could be safely inferred anyway, since they do look bad.

Anyway, Senators Cardin (D-MD) and the always-prepared Russ Feingold (D-WI) were present --- Feingold somewhat briefly, reading a prepared statement before he had to leave to preside over a hearing being conducted by another committee, on Darfur.

In short, this administration's Executive branch seems to be doing its best to keep Congress hopping, and with no small success. Coburn, again to do him justice, pointed out that the Homeland Security [sic] committee on which he is a member has also conducted hearings on waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq, and noted somberly that we are about to add another $21 billion in waste, fraud and abuse via the upcoming Iraq War appropriations bill --- to be voted on this week or next. Would that Sen. Hillary Clinton could be so clear.

Meanwhile, as Sen. Leahy commented, the waste, fraud and abuse in the "war on terror" (my quotation marks, not his; I'm not going to pretend that that term is viable) and specifically in Iraq now proceed on a scale unprecedented in our history. Leahy --- one of the senators apparently targeted by the unknown anthrax mailer, speaking of investigations --- also pointed to the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan have been riddled with fraud, kickbacks and overbilling among other problems; that some of the problems have been associated with contractors including KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton; and that some of the contractors have had close ties with the administration. Presumably as a result, investigation has been lackluster --- indeed the administration wanted to shut down the Inspector General's office altogether, until the uproar in reaction forced some backpedaling and the project had to be abandoned.

Leahy cited authorities from Lincoln, who called war profiteers "worse than traitors"; to FDR, who criticized what he called "war millionaires"; to Truman, who personally spearheaded public hearings into the waste, fraud and abuse of his time.

It is indeed a staggering reflection that the big media outlets of OUR time have avoided this topic to the extent they have; the entire Washington Post was evidently going to give Halliburton a pass until I and other writers got into the topic. And even then, Dana Milbank ridiculed Democrats for harping on "Halliburton."

BTW, Sen. Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, read that Milbank article aloud one day when I was sitting in on a congressional hearing (cutting little glances at me, if I'm not seriously mistaken, while reading with the other or good eye; O Senator, yr lips say No No but yr eyes say . . .) --- Good work, Senator: as Leahy also commented today, Halliburton is about to move to Dubai, a move that is "an insult to U.S. soldiers and taxpayers" who have willingly footed the bills for Halliburton's overcharging.

Which reminds me that I'm not reading too much about Halliburton's move in the Post, either. I don't know whether the Post was represented at today's hearing, which was rather scantly attended by press as well as Republicans. Fox Television was there, though, and fully set up --- probably partly because one of the panel witnesses was Barry M. Sabin, from the Department of Justice. Sabin did not fully answer several questions about the progress (or even the inception) of investigations of waste, fraud and abuse referred to the DOJ. As Leahy pointed out, that might have been a better use of DOJ time than the panoply of email correspondence about doing things to prosecutors.

One of the witnesses at this hearing was particularly well organized and interesting to listen to. More on that later.