White House offered "guidance" to second witness in LightSquared inquiry

Last week, The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake opened up a new scandal in the White House by revealing that a four-star Air Force general told Congress that Obama administration officials had pressured him to change his testimony about LightSquared, a company with ties to Obama and his election campaign.  Eli follows up today with a report that a second witness, a head of a federal agency, says the White House also offered him “guidance” by asking him to insert a paragraph expressing confidence in LightSquared’s efforts:

[T]he White House’s Office of Management and Budget urged federal officials testifying before two House oversight hearings in the last month to say they hoped testing for GPS and LightSquared interference would take only 90 days, according to interviews.

The Daily Beast obtained the paragraph the OMB asked government witnesses to insert into their recent congressional testimony, which says in part, “We hope that testing can be complete within 90 days.”

The issue of LightSquared and the OMB’s interest in testimony came to light last week when The Daily Beast reported that Gen. William Shelton, the four-star general in charge of the Air Force Space Command, told House lawmakers in a classified briefing that he felt pressured by the White House to change his testimony on LightSquared. Shelton ultimately rejected the White House suggestions and delivered his own testimony last week.

On Monday, a second witness, Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, told The Daily Beast that he too was asked by the OMB to insert the 90-day timeframe into his testimony before the House Science Committee, but he refused. The hearing originally was scheduled for Aug. 3, then rescheduled for Sept. 8.

Russo says he assumed that the White House approached all of the other witnesses and asked them to insert the paragraph into their prepared testimony.  Russo scoffed at the notion that the testing could be complete in 90 days, and ended up editing out that claim.  While Shelton told Congress that the White House exerted pressure on him to insert that claim, Russo told Eli that he considered it more “guidance” than pressure.

Still, how many witnesses told Congress that testing could be done in 90 days based on this “guidance” from administration officials?  One former FCC commissioner tells Eli that putting a 90-day window on testing would be unprecedented.  For one thing, tests like this take some time to execute, but testing often produces unpredicted outcomes.  In fact, that’s the whole point of conducting the tests.  When those arise, then more testing will be required to resolve the issues discovered, and on a matter as complex as dealing with interference to global navigational systems, 90 days sounds like a ridiculously short period of time.

Congress needs to look into the allegations of witness manipulation on behalf of LightSquared, especially Shelton’s claim of being pressured to make LightSquared look good.  If that pressure included insinuations of career damage for testifying honestly, then Congress needs to shine as much light on the connections between LightSqaured and the White House, and the decision to pressure the military on behalf of a donor.  At the very least, any further witnesses to Congress from this administration should be asked whether their testimony is entirely theirs, or whether someone else told them to testify in a particular manner.

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