Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Strange Case Of Armstrong Williams

The investigation into Washington's pro-NCLB pundit-for-hire Armstrong Williams (background here) gets more complicated:
Investigators at the Education Department have contacted the U.S. attorney's office regarding the Bush administration's hiring of commentator Armstrong Williams to promote its agenda.

The action was disclosed by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-NJ, who has pressed for a criminal fraud investigation focused on questions about whether Williams actually performed the work cited in his monthly reports to the Education Department.

The Government Accountability Office has concluded that the Education Department engaged in illegal "covert propaganda" by hiring Williams to promote the No Child Left Behind Act without requiring him to disclose that he was being paid. The Education Department's inspector general has also reviewed the Williams deal, which was part of a broader contract that the education agency had with Ketchum, a public relations firm.

Now the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia is investigating whether Williams accepted public money without performing his required duties, said Dan Katz, chief counsel for Lautenberg. The attorney's office has a range of potential remedies, from suing to recover the money to possible criminal charges, Katz said.

"The inspector general wouldn't refer this to the U.S. attorney unless there was evidence of misconduct that requires further investigating," Katz said.

Channing Phillips, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein, confirmed that his office is reviewing the matter. Phillips declined to say whether prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation.

Williams, a conservative black commentator, was paid to produce ads promoting the No Child Left Behind law, and to provide media time to department officials and persuade other blacks in the media to discuss the law. GAO auditors could not find the work Williams listed or could not connect the work they found to his contract.

Read the whole article.

Like so many investigations of this type, I don't expect much to come of this. Certainly, the investigation will go on and on and on and on. The costs will run into the millions of dollars. But don't look for any criminal charges to be filed against Williams.

When the government is involved, sleaziness is rarely punished with time behind bars.

House Of Spellings has nothing to say on the matter, though to be fair, the shenanigans pulled by Williams occurred under the watch of former Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

Ed's Note to Wannabe Secretly-paid Political Shills Commentators: When risking your journalistic reputation in exchange for a few greenbacks, it's best to insist on payment in cash.
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