WASHINGTON - The State Department's top fraud investigator, who recused himself from probes into Blackwater Worldwide security contractors over conflict-of-interest charges, has relinquished even more authority but remains at his post, officials said yesterday.
In addition to removing himself from all queries related to Blackwater, Inspector General Howard Krongard has given up his role investigating corruption allegations involving the construction of the new US embassy in Baghdad, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The move came at the request of a congressional oversight committee chaired by Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California. Krongard testified before the panel a day earlier. During the hearing, Krongard learned, apparently for the first time, that his brother is a member of Blackwater's advisory board.
"That was at the request of Congressman Waxman's committee because they are doing their own inquiries into the new embassy compound," McCormack said. "Because of the reporting relationship between the IG and the Congress, of course, Howard honored that request."
Despite the fact that he has now recused himself from the State Department's two main internal investigations in Iraq and has come under heavy pressure to resign, Krongard has not offered to step down and continues as the inspector general, McCormack told reporters.
The spokesman did not, however, offer Krongard a ringing endorsement and pointedly refused several times to say if the inspector general still had the confidence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or others.
"He has, appropriately, recused himself from these two issues, Blackwater and the new embassy compound," McCormack said. "He is still doing his work as inspector general."
Waxman and some fellow Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have alleged that Krongard has politicized his office and has undermined probes that targeted Blackwater or that might embarrass Bush administration officials. Those charges led the union that represents US diplomats to call for Krongard to step down.
Krongard vehemently denied the accusations at Wednesday's hearing, maintaining that he has no political ties and is the victim of disgruntled employees who objected to his brusque management style.
Testifying under oath, he also denied that his brother, Alvin, had any connection to Blackwater, the private security firm whose guards may face criminal prosecution for a deadly Sept. 16 shooting episode in Baghdad.
But after being confronted with documents showing Alvin Krongard was, in fact, a member of the company's advisory board, he called his brother during a break in the hearing and returned to make the stunning announcement that he had been wrong, and immediately recused himself from all Blackwater-related investigations.
"I'm not my brother's keeper," Krongard told the committee when he was pressed to explain how he could have been unaware of the connection.
The siblings are apparently not close. Alvin Krongard was widely quoted after the hearing as saying he had informed Howard of his connection to Blackwater but that they rarely speak.
McCormack stressed that Krongard had acted properly.