Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Webb's Office Clouds Issue In Disputing Junket Report

Senator Jim Webb's office is disputing a report in Human Events that he is using Blackwater as an excuse to retaliate against the Pentagon for not giving his wife and child a free trip to Asia.

But Webb only clouds the issue further. His press secretary's response looks like the senator is digging in his heels rather than coming clean.

Webb's press secretary, Kimberly Hunter, told the reporter that while the senator and Defense Secretary Robert Gates did talk about travel plans for family members on military aircraft (why a United States senator would raise this with the Secretary of Defense is beyond me, but that's another matter). The real issue, she says, is an apparent reluctance or slowness on DoD's part to answer questions about Blackwater. The evidence, though, shows otherwise.

Reporter Erick Erickson, who broke the story, writes a piece today containing Hunter's response and adds:

"I appreciate Ms. Hunter’s response and forwarded to my original sources on the Hill as well as several individuals off the Hill. Ms. Hunter notes that 'travel policies relating to dependents' were discussed and that 'Senator Webb will have additional information on that topic.' Additional sources coming forward to me, however, suggest that the hold is related to the family travel issue and that Sen. Webb 'strongly hinted' at that in his conversation with Secretary Gates.

"Ms. Hunter noted that Sen. Webb worked in the Pentagon for five years. As such, multiple Executive Branch sources who saw Ms. Hunter’s response to me, as well as Secretary Gates’s original letter, said that Senator Webb should have picked up, either in Secretary Gates’s letter or their phone call, that Secretary Gates has been more than willing to give Senator Webb a detailed briefing on the matter. In fact, in Secretary Gates’s letter, he wrote, 'I have asked the Department of the Navy to brief you on this particular contract with Blackwater Lodge.'

"Interestingly, individuals in the Executive Branch were not willing to discuss, on or off the record, Sen.Webb’s holds until they saw his press secretary’s response. On background, I was told there has never been a hold placed on any nominee for any comparable reason, especially when the Secretary of Defense is willing to provide written responses and to send over Navy officials so that Sen. Webb can be briefed and pose questions to the experts.

"Both sources on and off the Hill familiar with the situation strongly maintain that the hold is directly related to the Pentagon’s refusal to pay for Sen. Webb’s wife and child’s travel. Sen. Webb has now been told 'no' twice.

"Said one source, 'Ms. Hunter is right and wrong. Secretary Gates did not provide detailed answers to the senator’s questions. Rather, he offered to send over someone who had knowledge of the program and could more readily answer both the questions posed and the questions raised by the answers. It was not a matter of declining, but a matter of trying to help Sen. Webb get a thorough understanding of the matter beyond what could be done in a letter. Sen. Webb just didn’t like the answer to his travel question.'"

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