September 15, 2011

"White House Pressure for a Donor?"

Anybody else feeling the boiler steam building up?

The four-star Air Force general who oversees U.S. Space Command walked into a highly secured room on Capitol Hill a week ago to give a classified briefing to lawmakers and staff, and dropped a surprise. Pressed by members, Gen. William Shelton said the White House tried to pressure him to change his testimony to make it more favorable to a company tied to a large Democratic donor.

The episode—confirmed by The Daily Beast in interviews with administration officials and the chairman of a congressional oversight committee—is the latest in a string of incidents that have given Republicans sudden fodder for questions about whether the Obama administration is politically interfering in routine government matters that affect donors or fundraisers. Already, the FBI and a House committee are investigating a federal loan guarantee to a now failed solar firm called Solyndra that is tied to a large Obama fundraiser.

Now the Pentagon has been raising concerns about a new wireless project by a satellite broadband company in Virginia called LightSquared, whose majority owner is an investment fund run by Democratic donor Philip Falcone. Gen. Shelton was originally scheduled to testify Aug. 3 to a House committee that the project would interfere with the military’s sensitive Global Positioning Satellite capabilities, which control automated driving directions and missile targeting, among other things.

According to officials familiar with the situation, Shelton’s prepared testimony was leaked in advance to the company. And the White House asked the general to alter the testimony to add two points: that the general supported the White House policy to add more broadband for commercial use; and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the questions around LightSquared with testing in just 90 days. Shelton chafed at the intervention, which seemed to soften the Pentagon’s position and might be viewed as helping the company as it tries to get the project launched, the officials said.

“There was an attempt to influence the text of the testimony and to engage LightSquared in the process in order to bias his testimony,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said in an interview. “The only people who were involved in the process in preparation for the hearing included the Department of Defense, the White House, and the Office Management and Budget.”

Turner is chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees Shelton’s space command and GPS issues; the panel is expected to explore the issues between LightSquared and the Pentagon at a hearing Thursday. Shelton is planning to give his belated testimony then.

The White House confirmed Wednesday that its Office of Management and Budget suggested changes to the general’s testimony but insisted such reviews are routine and not influenced by politics. And it said Shelton will be permitted to give the testimony he wants, without any pressure.

[…]

The general’s office declined to comment, and LightSquared did not return calls seeking comment. Harbinger Capital Partners, Falcone’s investment firm, said it would provide a comment Thursday.

LightSquared has previously acknowledged it met with administration officials as it tried to shepherd the project, which is consistent with President Obama’s goal of trying to expand broadband wireless access nationwide.

“Because we are the only company on the horizon that can quickly help the federal government meet its stated objective of near universal wireless coverage for all Americans, it was natural that LightSquared have meetings with the administration,” company spokesman Terry Neal said recently. “LightSquared’s network promises to expand access to wireless broadband, increase competition in the marketplace, give consumers new choices, and, ultimately, lower prices. We acknowledge we wanted to discuss that with administration officials.”

Melanie Sloan, who runs the nonpartisan ethics groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the emerging allegations about possible White House involvement in LightSquared’s matter seemed to mirror earlier allegations in the Solyndra case.

“With this new set of facts, it starts to sound like a pattern of the White House improperly pressuring people at agencies involving decisions that affect companies tied to donors and fundraisers,” Sloan said. “It’s always a problem when the White House is pressuring anyone’s testimony. I don’t care if you are a four-star [general] or a GS-15 [career employee], you should be giving your true opinion and not an opinion the White House is seeking for political expediency.”

Sloan recalled similar instances during the Bush administration, when officials were accused of trying to meddle with climate scientists’ testimony. “It doesn’t matter what party is in charge, money frequently trumps good policy in Washington,” she said.

[…]

Turner confirmed that Shelton told his committee that LightSquared had obtained his earlier prepared testimony and that the general will be asked about the pressure from the White House at Thursday’s hearing. “We are going to ask Gen. Shelton that the testimony we are receiving is unaltered and unbiased,” he said. “We have to make certain our national security is protected without financial influence or interference.”

A U.S. government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House specifically asked Shelton to include a paragraph in his testimony that stated the military would continue to test the proposed bandwidth for ways LightSquared could still use the spectrum space without interfering with GPS. The proposed language for Shelton’s testimony also stated that he hoped the necessary testing for LightSquared would be completed within 90 days.

The White House has said it did not try to influence the licensing process for LightSquared at the FCC. Chairman Julius Genachowski also has said the White House never lobbied him about LightSquared.

Falcone, his wife, and the CEO of LightSquared, Sanjiv Ahuja, have given more than $90,000 to the Democratic causes since they applied for the license. Falcone also has made a smattering of donations to Republicans.

Republicans are now questioning whether the administration has been rushing approval of the project over the objections of experts ranging from GPS companies like Garmin to the military’s own advisory committee on satellites.

“The FCC’s fast-tracking of LightSquared raises questions about whether the government is rushing this project at the expense of all kinds of other things, including national security and everyone who uses GPS, from agriculture to emergency medical technicians,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). “Without transparency, and with media coverage of political connections in this case, there’s no way to know whether the agency is trying to help friends in need or really looking out for the public’s interest.”

Here’s my conspiratorial take: there’s no way the GOP is getting this stuff itself. Some group within the Democrat party is not happy with this President and is beginning to understand the long-term consequences of his national stewardship. And they’re beginning to act as if they understand it.

If you follow my drift…

Posted by Jeff G. @ 9:22am
10 comments | Trackback

Comments (10)

  1. AttackWaaaaatchhh!

  2. JHoward beat me to it. I’ll report you too, just to emphasize how much of a lying liar what lies you are. Speaking truth to power is no longer allowed. Kissing the ass of power is now the highest form of patriotism.

  3. the nonpartisan ethics groups Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington

    “Nonpartisan”?

    Or perhaps the Daily Beast intended it to be a joke and we’re meant to be laughing?

  4. If you think it’s ugly when the Alinsyites come after us, you can only imagine what it’s like when they turn the knives on each other.

    These developments are like a cliffhanger at the end of my favorite show. I can hardly way for the new season to start!

  5. 1. Fast & Furious

    2. Solyndra

    3. LightSquared

    4. ?

    5. ?

    6. ?

    The suspense is killing me.

  6. “boiler steam building up” reminds me of Reverend Bacon (Al Sharpton/Jesse Jackson) in Bonfire of the Vanities. How Hollywood could ruin that is beyo..well, perfectly understandable.

    And of course CREW is non-partisan sdferr, just like the AP is a straight news source.

  7. 4. Walpin (old news)
    5. New Black Panther Party dismissals

  8. Mr. Howard, if you are taking notes for AttackWaaaaaatch, here is something for ya to cut n’ paste over there:

    I’m pretty damned wound up about this – the systems that we are talking about in this situation are LIFE and DEATH critical. If this got steered to some O! crony/fundraiser/donor and did not go to the best qualified firm, that is “almost treason”. If someone tries to jack our guidance systems and the crony firm isn’t up to snuff, Soldiers, Sailor, Airmen and Marines will DIE.

    MEDEVAC will be late, sorry. They are having trouble navigating.
    Gosh, we’d love to direct in some CAS or arty for you, but … you know.
    We’d love to drop a lovely 2 ton bomb on that bunch of Talib, but we’re not sure where it would land.
    Say, anyone know where this submarine happens to be?
    Excellent, you did mark the grid coordinates of that minefield….oh wait, you couldn’t.

    Someone has to burn for this one, if it is confirmed.

  9. Some citizens (American and Mexican) have already died related to running illegal guns into Mexico, but the administration mainly wants to cover up. I predict the same for this issue.

  10. Pingback: More crony capitalism communism » Cold Fury

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