Eli Lake at The Daily Beast has a blockbuster story about how the White House pressured a general to change his testimony before Congress in order to help out a big-time donor to Democrats.
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, officials said.The military feared that LightSquared would interfere with military GPS and General Shelton wasn't happy about getting pressure from the White House to downplay those concerns.
“There was an attempt to influence the text of the testimony and to engage LightSquared in the process in order to bias his testimony,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) said in an interview. “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.”
Shelton finally gave his testimony Thursday, and made clear the Pentagon's concern about LightSquared's project.The company and OMB are denying that they did anything improper.
The general told Turner's committee that preliminary tests of a new LightSquared proposal to use only a portion of the band that it was licensed originally in 2004 would cause significant disruptions to GPS.
He said the GPS spectrum was supposed to originally be a “quiet neighborhood,” meaning that lower strength signals could exist near the GPS spectrum. Speaking of the LightSquared plan, he said, “If you put a rock band in the middle of that quiet neighborhood, that’s a different circumstance.”
A U.S. government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House specifically asked Shelton to include a paragraph in his testimony that stated the military would continue to test the proposed bandwidth for ways LightSquared could still use the spectrum space without interfering with GPS. The proposed language for Shelton’s testimony also stated that he hoped the necessary testing for LightSquared would be completed within 90 days.This fits the pattern with Solyndra of the White House pressuring a supposedly nonpartisan decision to get a positive outcome that just happened to benefit a donor. When a general feels that the contacts were inappropriate and tells a congressional committee about it, we know that something isn't quite kosher.
The White House has said it did not try to influence the licensing process for LightSquared at the FCC. Chairman Julius Genachowski also has said the White House never lobbied him about LightSquared. Republicans are now questioning whether the administration has been rushing approval of the project over the objections of experts ranging from GPS companies like Garmin to the military’s own advisory committee on satellites.
“The FCC’s fast-tracking of LightSquared raises questions about whether the government is rushing this project at the expense of all kinds of other things, including national security and everyone who uses GPS, from agriculture to emergency medical technicians,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). “Without transparency, and with media coverage of political connections in this case, there’s no way to know whether the agency is trying to help friends in need or really looking out for the public’s interest.”
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."
Sloan recalled similar instances during the Bush administration, when officials were accused of trying to meddle with climate scientists’ testimony. “It doesn’t matter what party is in charge, money frequently trumps good policy in Washington,” she said.