Scandal magnets: On Sept. 10, the Pentagon’s Inspector General Joseph Schmitz resigned amid accusations of ethics violations that are breath-taking, even by current-day conservative standards:
Schmitz slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, spent taxpayer money on pet projects and accepted gifts that may have violated ethics guidelines, according to interviews with current and former senior officials in the inspector general’s office, congressional investigators and a review of internal e-mail and other documents.
The accusations against Schmitz are so egregious that even Republicans in Congress – who have rigorously shunned their oversight duties when it comes to Bush Administration scandals – have launched an investigation. He is also the target of an inquiry by the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which sounds like an administration whitewash panel.
When Schmitz resigned earlier this month he took a job with the parent company of defense contractor Blackwater USA, the security mercenaries who are patrolling New Orleans and Baghdad right now.
Who Is Joe Schmitz?
Joe Schmitz is a member of controversial conservative family. His father, John G. Schmitz, was a congressman from Orange County, CA, and a member of the John Birch Society, whose views were so extreme that he believed that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were liberals. In 1972, he ran for president as a member of George Wallace’s (barely) crypto-racist American Indepentent Party but his campaign was derailed when “an infant boy was treated at an Orange County hospital for having hair tied so tightly around his penis that it was almost severed. The baby was placed in protective custody, and the court demanded that the baby’s father step forward. It turned out that Schmitz, a purported defender of family values, was the father. The baby’s mother, a 43-year-old German immigrant, was his mistress and had two children by the former Congressman. This scandal effectively ended his career.”
The former DoD IG’s sister is even more infamous. She is Mary Kay Letourneau, the Washington state teacher and mother of four whose affair with her underage student, Vili Fualaau, sent her to prison. (After serving her time, Mary Kay married Fualaau.)
Protecting Political Appointees
Former colleaques describe Schmitz as paying meticulous attention to personal projects, including adding a new bathroom to his executive suite and hiring a speechwriter while avoiding serious issues such as investigating waste, fraud and abuse in the Dept. of Defense. He was also overly attentive to investigations of Bush Administration cronies:
He paid close attention … to the investigations of senior Bush administration appointees. At one point, investigators even stopped telling Schmitz who was under investigation, substituting letter codes for the names of individuals during weekly briefings for fear that Schmitz would leak the information to Pentagon superiors, according to a senior Pentagon official.
“He became very involved in political investigations that he had no business getting involved in,” said another senior official in the inspector general’s office…
A review of e-mail messages and documents provides new details.
One case involves John A. “Jack” Shaw, a deputy undersecretary of Defense accused by whistle-blowers in Iraq of directing a lucrative telecommunications contract to a company whose board members included friends. Shaw has denied wrongdoing. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Schmitz, who had signed an unusual agreement giving Shaw limited investigative powers, sent the case to the FBI over the objections of his own investigators and then blocked them from assisting the FBI, according to interviews and e-mails obtained by The Times.
“It’s a safe bet you can bury something at the FBI, because they won’t have time to look at it,” said one Pentagon official.
And when rules got in the way, Schmitz would simply change the rules:
Another case in which Schmitz intervened came when the inspector general’s office began examining the jobs received by Pentagon officials who left for the private sector, according to another U.S. official, who also declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
One of those on the list was Edward “Pete” Aldridge, the former Pentagon procurement chief who took a job with defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Schmitz would not sign a subpoena allowing investigators to examine employment documents, the official said.
Instead, the official said that Schmitz created a new policy that made it more difficult to get information by subpoena by requiring additional bureaucratic steps. During his tenure, Schmitz also made it harder to initiate an investigation of a political appointee, requiring high-ranking approval before investigators could proceed.
Obsessed with Von Steuben
Perhaps the strangest aspect of Joe Shmitz’ tenure at the DoD is his obsession with Revolutionary War hero Baron Friedrich Von Steuben. Von Stueben is credited with bringing discipline to General Washington’s ragtag army, and is the author of Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States. Von Steuben was a true hero in America’s Revolution but he had a rather scandalous past. He had never been a general in the Prussian army, as he claimed, and had been discharged, reportedly, because he was gay.
Shortly after taking office, Schmitz made Von Steuben’s legacy a focus. He spent three months personally redesigning the inspector general’s seal to include the Von Steuben family motto, “Always under the protection of the Almighty.”
He dictated the number of stars, laurel leaves and colors of the seal. He also asked for a new eagle, saying that the one featured on the old seal “looked like a chicken,” current and former officials said.
In July 2004, he escorted Henning Von Steuben, a German journalist and head of the Von Steuben Family Assn., to a U.S. Marine Corps event. He also feted Von Steuben at an $800 meal allegedly paid for by public funds, according to [Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose committee is investigating Schmitz], and hired Von Steuben’s son to work as an unpaid intern in the inspector general’s office, a former Defense official said.
He also called off a $200,000 trip to attend a ceremony at a Von Steuben statue earlier this year in Germany after Grassley questioned it…
“He was consumed with all things German and all things Von Steuben,” said the former Defense official, who did not want to be identified because of the ongoing inquiries. “He was obsessed.”
This looks like a case where Republicans can throw one of their own overboard and say, “See how we investigated him and took action. We’re for clean government” – which will give them cover for letting majority leaders DeLay and Frist off the hook for their transgressions.