Michael Mobbs’s June 8, 2004, briefing of a House committee staff included one very surprising moment of testimony. Mobbs, a special adviser to the under secretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon, was on the Hill to discuss what the staff of Vice President Dick Cheney might have known about the multibillion-dollar government contracts awarded to Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR to rebuild infrastructure in postwar Iraq and to house and supply U.S. troops stationed there. It was one of the smaller questions at the edge of a potential scandal involving the vice president. At the time Mobbs testified, KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root) was the nation’s biggest single recipient of government funding for military logistics and reconstruction, and not only had Cheney been the CEO of its parent company for the five years before he was elected vice president, but the no-bid process by which Halliburton and KBR has gotten their Iraq contracts had been put in place by Cheney while he was Secretary of Defense, from 1989 to 1993. Considering all this, Democratic members of the House Committee on Government Reform, led by California congressman Henry Waxman, thought it well within the scope of reasonable congressional inquiry to ask if anyone on the vice president’s staff had been involved in awarding the contracts.
The vice president didn’t find it so reasonable. He had already addressed the matter on NBC’s Meet the Press nine months before, telling Tim Russert: “Since I left Halliburton to become George Bush’s vice president, I’ve severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interests. I have no financial interest in Halliburton of any kind and haven’t had now for over three years. And as vice president, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape, or form of contracts let by the Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the federal government.”
Following the interview, Department of Defense officials confirmed that Cheney’s office had nothing to do with the contracts. Then, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and when the DOD refused to comply with the request, the public-interest foundation sued and obtained files that included an e-mail from regional director for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Stephen Browning stating that Halliburton contracts were “coordinated through the Vice President’s office.”
The staff meeting at which Mobbs testified was closed to the public. Only those present in the Rayburn House Office Building committee room would ever hear what he had to say. He wasn’t sworn in, as this was not a full committee hearing with members of the House present. But lying to Congress is a violation of federal law, and staff members expected the truth. They got more than they expected.
“We asked Mobbs who, outside the Pentagon, he had spoken to regarding the KBR contracts,” said a staff member who sat in on the briefing. “He said he met with the deputies… . He began to name one deputy after another [including Cheney’s deputy national security director, Stephen Hadley, who chaired the meeting]. Then we asked him, what about Cheney’s office? And he said, ‘Yeah, Scooter Libby.’”
“Yeah, Scooter Libby”?