TANGLED WEB: Joseph E. Schmitz, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Defense, says the Obama administration doesn’t like watchdog’s looking at it.
By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog.org
Yes, government waste, fraud and abuse are the triplet children of incompetence, greed and unbridled ambition.
But these sins of public trust begin and end with dishonesty.
And Joseph E. Schmitz has seen a lot of lying by the government to taxpayers in his lengthy legal career.
Schmitz, who served as inspector general of the U.S. Department of Defense from 2002-05, in an interview with Watchdog.org said, “no political party has a monopoly on waste, fraud and abuse and corruption.”
But he said he has seen some troubling patterns of deceit in the Obama administration.
Exhibit A, according to the attorney: Benghazi.
“I still represent whistleblowers, and I see the people in this current administration just blatantly lying — lying to American citizens, lying about people trying to redress grievances,” Schmitz said. “These huge scandals start with dishonesty.”
Conservatives have been critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, an assault that killed four Americans — including a U.S. ambassador.
A Senate Intelligence Committee report released in January criticized the Hillary Clinton-led U.S. State Department and the intelligence community for not preventing the attacks.
The long-delayed bipartisan report asserts the State Department failed to increase security, although it had been repeatedly warned to do so, and it faulted intelligence agencies for not sharing information.
“The attacks were preventable, based on extensive intelligence reporting on the terrorist activity in Libya — to include prior threats and attacks against Western targets — and given the known security shortfalls at the U.S. Mission,” the panel said in a statement.
The report was released a year after Clinton, in aggravation at a Senate committee hearing on Benghazi, asked U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., “What difference does it make?”
“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans,” Clinton said. “What difference — at this point, what difference does it make?”
Schmitz, like myriad other conservatives, said the State Department’s actions, or lack thereof, made a big difference in the outcome of the attacks.
“From my standpoint, whoever wrote those fallacious talking points that (then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations) Susan Rice repeated to citizens in government, those blatantly dishonest talking points that were propagated by senior officials. And nobody has been held accountable,” the former inspector general said.
Schmitz has been critical of the administration’s foot-dragging on replacing cabinet-level inspectors general. In a June 2013 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Schmitz pointedly offered this question: “With so many scandals breaking in Washington, one may well ask: Where were all the inspectors general when these bad things — at the IRS, at Justice, and at State before, during and after Benghazi, for instance—were going on?”
His answer: “The sad truth is that in the Obama administration many of the most important IGs mandated by Congress simply are not in place.”
Schmitz points out that for several years, President Obama “neglected his duty” to fill vacant inspector general posts at the departments of State, Interior, Labor, Homeland Security and Defense.
“At a time when American confidence in the integrity and transparency of the federal government has been shaken, inspectors general can help Washington get back to basic principles of accountability — but only if the IGs are properly appointed and allowed to do their jobs,” Schmitz wrote in the op-ed.
In May 2012, there were 10 inspector general vacancies, half of which were at cabinet-level agencies, and four of the positions had been vacant for several years. Obama last year finally appointed a State Department watchdog, following a five-year vacancy.
Schmitz said one of the biggest problems he saw during his time as Pentagon inspector general during Republican President George W. Bush’s administration, and what he sees playing out in Democrat Obama’s tenure, is a lack of leadership.
“People are called on to make tough decisions. The person in charge is supposed to ake hard decisions, and they wouldn’t be able to make a decision because lawyers would come along and make a decision by indecision,” Schmitz said. “That’s abusive, and I’m speaking as a lawyer myself. One of the biggest problems I saw was lawyers getting involved.”
For three-plus years, during times of war and crisis, Schmitz had a “pretty up-close-and-personal perspective” view into the Bush White House. He said he saw mistakes made, saw people “generally trying to do the right job but got bad advice.”
Bush received plenty of criticism for his decisions and the advice he followed during his two terms – “Weapons of Mass Destruction” in Iraq arguably the most pronounced.
Schmitz, too, had his own share of controversy as the Pentagon’s watchdog.
He resigned in 2005, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “amid accusations that he stonewalled inquiries into senior Bush administration officials suspected of wrongdoing.”
The resignation came after a congressional investigation inquiry into whether Schmitz had blocked two criminal investigations. U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, at the time chairman of the Senate’s Finance Committee, accused “Schmitz of fabricating an official Pentagon news release, planning an expensive junket to Germany and hiding information from Congress.”
Schmitz was exonerated of any wrongdoing by the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency in 2006.
As the L.A. Times piece pointed out, Schmitz “comes from a family that is no stranger to controversy.”
“His father was the ultraconservative Orange County congressman John G. Schmitz, who once ran for president but whose political career ended after he admitted having an affair with a German immigrant suspected of child abuse. Schmitz’s sister is Mary Kay Letourneau, the Washington state teacher who served more than seven years in prison after a 1997 conviction for rape after having sex with a sixth-grade pupil with whom she had two children. After Letourneau’s release from prison, she and the former pupil, now an adult, married each other.”
Schmitz bristled at Watchdog’s question about his famous family.
“Everybody has people like that in their family,” he said. “That has nothing to do with my integrity of my professionalism,” he said.
While he has family in Milwaukee, Schmitz said he doesn’t believe he is related to Milwaukee-area attorney Francis D. Schmitz, who is serving as special prosecutor in a secret John Doe investigation into conservative organizations. Francis Schmitz, too, said he does not believe he is related to Joseph Schmitz.
The former inspector general wrote the book on watchdogging waste, fraud and abuse – literally. He is the author of “The Inspector General Handbook: Fraud, Waste, Abuse, and Other Constitutional Enemies, Foreign and Domestic” and “The Forgotten Preamble: Introduction to the Bill of Rights Gives More Meaning to the Tenth Amendment.”
While he credits investigative news organizations, like Watchdog.org, for doing the work government officials have failed to do, Schmitz acknowledges the job of an inspector general is difficult.
“The position is not fun. I wouldn’t recommend being an IG for anyone,” he said.
Contact M.D. Kittle at email@example.com
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