Sunday, November 06, 2005
Emails Between Ousted Public Broadcasting Chief And Rove, White House Officials Under Investigation…
by Stephen Labaton, New York Times
WASHINGTON, Nov. 4 - Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, is the subject of an inquiry into accusations of misuse of federal money and the use of phantom or unqualified employees, officials involved in that examination said on Friday.
Mr. Tomlinson was ousted from the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting on Thursday after its inspector general concluded an investigation that was critical of him. That examination looked at his efforts as chairman of the corporation to seek more conservative programs on public radio and television.
But Mr. Tomlinson remains an important official as the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The board, whose members include the secretary of state, plays a central role in public diplomacy. It supervises the government's foreign broadcasting operations, including Radio Martí, Radio Sawa and al-Hurra; transmits programs in 61 languages; and says it has more than 100 million listeners each week.
The board has been troubled lately over deep internal divisions and criticism of its Middle East broadcasts. Members of the Arab news media have said its broadcasts are American propaganda.
People involved in the inquiry said that investigators had already interviewed a significant number of officials at the agency and that, if the accusations were substantiated, they could involve criminal violations.
Last July, the inspector general at the State Department opened an inquiry into Mr. Tomlinson's work at the board of governors after Representative Howard L. Berman, Democrat of California, and Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, forwarded accusations of misuse of money.
The lawmakers requested the inquiry after Mr. Berman received complaints about Mr. Tomlinson from at least one employee at the board, officials said. People involved in the inquiry said it involved accusations that Mr. Tomlinson was spending federal money for personal purposes, using board money for corporation activities, using board employees to do corporation work and hiring ghost employees or improperly qualified employees.
Through an aide at the broadcasting board, Mr. Tomlinson declined to comment Friday about the State Department inquiry.
In recent weeks, State Department investigators have seized records and e-mail from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, officials said. They have shared some material with the inspector general at the corporation, including e-mail traffic between Mr. Tomlinson and White House officials including Karl Rove, a senior adviser to President Bush and a close friend of Mr. Tomlinson.
Mr. Rove and Mr. Tomlinson became friends in the 1990's when they served on the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor agency to the board of governors. Mr. Rove played an important role in Mr. Tomlinson's appointment as chairman of the broadcasting board.
The content of the e-mail between the two officials has not been made public but could become available when the corporation's inspector general sends his report to members of Congress this month.
That inspector general examined several contracts that were approved by Mr. Tomlinson but not disclosed to board members. The contracts provided for payments to a researcher who monitored the political content of several shows, including "Now" with Bill Moyers, and payments to two Republican lobbyists who were retained to help defeat a proposal in Congress that would have required greater representation of broadcasters on the corporation's board.
The inspector general also examined the role of a White House official, Mary C. Andrews, in Mr. Tomlinson's creation of an ombudsman's office to monitor the political balance of programs.
Mr. Tomlinson has said he took those steps to counter what he called a clear liberal tilt of public broadcasting. But broadcasting executives and critics of the corporation say the steps violated the corporation's obligations to insulate broadcasting from politics.
On Thursday Mr. Tomlinson was forced to step down from the corporation, which directs nearly $400 million in federal money to public radio and television, after the board was briefed about the conclusions by its inspector general. In that inquiry, examiners looked at accusations that Mr. Tomlinson improperly used corporation money to promote more conservative programming.
State Department officials said on Friday that al-Hurra, the Arabic language satellite television network set up by the board of governors, was also being examined by the inspector general for possibly problematic procurement practices. That audit was first disclosed on Friday by The Financial Times.
The audit began at the request of al-Hurra, the officials said. A statement by the broadcasting board said that the agency had "no indication of any wrongdoing."
The network, which receives nearly $50 million in federal financing and is broadcast in 22 countries, was set up to compete with al-Jazeera and other Arab news media. One State Department official said Karen P. Hughes, under secretary of state for public diplomacy, had been briefed on the subject and "awaits the findings of the inspector general's audit."