Obama asked the Pentagon to put revenues over risks
Gen. William Shelton, a four-star general and head of the US Space Command, was scheduled to testify before a House committee last month regarding a controversial wireless project that a satellite broadband company is trying to implement. The company, Virginia-based LightSquared, says that their planned project would allow for “near universal wireless coverage for all Americans.”
The Pentagon, however, has been concerned that the project could pose a problem to the military’s current Global Positioning System and possibly impacts their missile targeting capabilities.
According to Shelton, the White House thought maybe they should reconsider.
Shelton was slated to speak before Congress on August 3 about his stance on the project from a DoD perspective, but before he could his testimony was leaked to LightSquared. Since then, the White House has asked him to make a few changes that would show that the military was more in favor of the project than Shelton thinks they should be.
As it turns out, LightSquared’s majority owner is an investment fund run by Phillip Falcone, a Democratic donor that has given more than $90,000 to liberals since the company first applied for a license.
Shelton was expected to speak out about how the sensitive GPS technology employed by the Pentagon could be impacted by LightSquare’s satellite system, but the White House suggested that he alter his testimony to say that the general himself was in favor of the program and that the Pentagon would try to find a workaround to make sure both parties were sitting pretty in less than three months’ time.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) tells the Daily Beast that this was “an attempt to influence the text of the testimony and to engage LightSquared in the process in order to bias his testimony.” But while the White House has confirmed that their Office of Management and Budget did suggest changes, they said the general did not have to follow through and that they were routine and not meant to influence his personal decision in any way.
OMB “reviews and clears all agency communications with Congress, including testimony, to ensure consistency in the administration’s policy positions,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz says to the Daily Beast. “When an agency is asked by a congressional committee to testify, OMB circulates the agency’s proposed [draft] testimony to other affected agencies and appropriate [executive office of the president] staff. If a reviewer has a comment to the proposed testimony, that suggestion is typically conveyed to the agency for their consideration. When divergent views emerge, they are often reconciled through discussions at the appropriate policy levels of OMB and the agencies.”
Reconciliation or not, this revelation comes at a terrible time for the Obama administration. Earlier this month, the Solyndra solar panel manufacturing plant filed for bankruptcy, despite the commander-in-chief urging the feds to approve millions in loan guarantees to the company. Now with taxpayers expected to pay off Solyndra’s burden, a federal probe is investigating the plant’s operations.
LightSquared CEO Terry Neal said in a statement recently that the company’s goal is to “expand access to wireless broadband, increase competition in the marketplace, give consumers new choices and, ultimately, lower prices.” They also revealed that yes, they have been in talk with White House officials. Given the source of LightSquared’s funding, however, it seems highly coincidental that the president would push to give them a go-ahead when the Pentagon has said that the national security of the United States is in question.
“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,” says Melanie Sloan of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. To the Daily Beast, she adds that the case seems far too similar to the Solyndra incident. “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,” she adds.
Last week the FBI executed an early morning raid on Solyndra’s Fremont, California plant. Republicans had earlier questioned Obama’s touting of the manufacturer, who has since said that foreign competition has caused costs to drop and kept them from sustaining a profitable operation.