With the White House already reeling over the Solyndra collapse, a new scandal may have erupted today that could make the disappearance of $535 million in taxpayer funds look like a paperwork glitch. Eli Lake starts off his new gig at The Daily Beast with a huge bombshell — an accusation made to members of Congress from a four-star Air Force general that claimed the White House pressured him to change his testimony to boost a big donor to the Democratic Party:
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.
As Eli explains, it’s not unusual to distribute prepared Congressional testimony in draft form to other related agencies before giving the testimony. The review gives everyone a chance to make sure that the facts are correct and the testimony is as accurate as possible. But sending Shelton’s testimony to LightSquared would raise big red flags on its own — let alone the accusation that the White House attempted to dictate Shelton’s testimony to benefit LightSquared and their big donor.
Rep. Mike Turner told Eli that this was definitely an attempt to influence Shelton, bias his testimony, and essentially mislead Congress. And that has a watchdog organization drawing parallels between Shelton’s accusation and the Solyndra collapse:
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.”
Quite frankly, this would be a lot more blatant and much more troubling. If the White House has been leaning on the military to mislead Congress in order to benefit Democratic donors, that indicates a whole new level of corruption, one that could seriously damage the non-partisan nature of civilian control of the military. If Shelton sticks to this accusation, then Congress needs to hold immediate hearings into who exactly pressured Shelton — and from whom that person took his or her orders.