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Senator: Charges Possible Over Williams Contract

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., commended the Education Department for
investigating the Williams contract. Why doesn't he call for an independent investigation?

The Education Department has acknowledged that it is working with the
U.S. attorney's office in Washington to investigate the Bush
administration's contract with commentator Armstrong Williams. That
suggests civil or criminal charges could be filed, according to Sen.
Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

“The inspector general wouldn't refer this to the U.S. attorney unless
there was evidence of misconduct that requires further investigating,”
Dan Katz, Lautenberg's chief counsel, told the Associated Press.

Friday, Lautenberg publicly released a letter from Education Department
Inspector General John Higgins disclosing the referral.

Williams told USA TODAY on Friday that he has been cooperating with the
Justice Department's attorneys since July. He said he expects to pay
back some of the money because he did not fulfill the government
contract, which called for him to promote President Bush's No Child Left
Behind education law and persuade others to do the same.

“That's what we're negotiating,” Williams said.

Congressional auditors last month found that the $240,000 contract
violated a ban on “covert propaganda” and said the Education Department
should ask for some of the money back. Higgins, while criticizing the
deal as “bad management” of tax dollars, found no ethical breaches
during his investigation. He issued that report on April 15.

But in the letter sent to Lautenberg, Higgins says he is “currently
working” with the U.S. attorney's office on an investigation. Lautenberg
has pressed for fraud charges, and his office said Friday that the U.S.
attorney's office has “an active investigation” of the contract.

Justice Department spokesman Channing Phillips said Justice is merely
“working with the Department of Education in reviewing the matter.” He
wouldn't say whether Williams could face any charges.

Education Department spokeswoman Susan Aspey and the counsel to the
inspector general, Mary Mitchelson, referred calls to the Justice

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., commended the Education Department for
investigating the Williams contract.

“The culture of corruption within this administration has too often come
at the sake of progress for average Americans, in this case taking away
vital funding from students,” Kennedy said. “We can't allow that to
happen again.”

Williams has said he “never intended to deceive or mislead anyone.” He
noted that he filmed only a handful of TV ads but didn't promote Bush's
education agenda, as the contract required.

He said he has already paid for his mistakes — for instance, losing his
syndicated column because he praised No Child Left Behind in it without
disclosing the government contract.

— Greg Toppo
USA Today


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