Another Cronyism Scandal Snags Obama White House

Thursday, 15 Sep 2011 04:14 PM

By Martin Gould

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The Obama administration has been hit with a second scandal alleging cronyism — this time potentially compromising military safety.

Four Star Gen. William Shelton was urged to alter his testimony to Congress to make it more favorable to a company with close ties to the White House, alleges Republican Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The allegation comes as revelations involving the bankruptcy of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra continue to embroil the White House. Officials from  that firm gave around $100,000 to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign for the presidency.

Shelton was due to give evidence to a House subcommittee about a plan by the satellite broadband company LightSquared to provide high-speed Internet service to 260 million people. The Pentagon believes it could interfere with sensitive military GPS systems, reports The Daily Beast.

LightSquared’s majority owner is Harbinger Capital, an investment fund that Democratic donor Philip Falcone runs.

When administration officials saw an early text of Shelton’s testimony, the White House urged him to change it, Turner contends.

“There was an attempt to influence the text of the testimony and to engage LightSquared in the process in order to bias his testimony,” the Ohio congressman said.

“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 said he will ask the House Oversight Committee to investigate to see whether the administration had interfered.

“We cannot afford to have federal telecommunication policy, especially where it affects national security, to be made in the same way this White House has parceled out a half billion dollars in loan guarantees to the failed Solyndra Corporation, a large political campaign contributor of the president,” Turner said.

According to the Daily Beast, the White House asked Shelton to alter his testimony to say that he supported plans to add more broadband for commercial use and that the Pentagon would need just 90 days for tests to see whether there was a problem.

Shelton “chafed at the suggestion” and told the committee about the interference, the website says.

White House officials acknowledge that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)suggested changes to Shelton’s testimony but said that is routine and not influenced by politics. Shelton was free to accept or reject the proposed changes, they said.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said the OMB “reviews and clears all agency communications with Congress, including testimony, to ensure consistency in the administration's policy positions.”

LightSquared needs federal approval to go ahead with the project, which fits into President Barack Obama’s stated goal to make high-speed Internet service available across the country.

But the area of broadband that it would use is close to that of GPS systems, including those the military uses, and that has raised fears of interference.

LightSquared acknowledges that it has had talks with the White House. “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.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, was due to appear at a meeting of the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces on Thursday to give evidence on LightSquared’s proposal but instead sent Julius Knapp, the FCC’s “top technical expert.” Turner denounced Genachowski’s snub as an affront to the subcommittee.



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