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Senator: Charges possible over Williams contract
Greg Toppo

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 Department.

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.

We've entered the era of absurdity again. We know what the Bush White House and Williams did was a crime. We know it's called "covert propaganda" and we know Williams didn't do anything without the Bush White House paying him to do it. It's similar to a person hiring a hit man to kill someone and then only the hit man is charged with a crime. In the real world, the person who hired the hit man is guilty as sin. So, in this case the Education Dept. and their boss, GW committed crimes. Now we're supposed to turn the other way and forget about it. . . If Williams is guilty and he is, then so are the jerks at Bush's Education Dept. and they MUST be fired.

This story says the GOP controlled congress can't find any ethics violations. It's ethical to break the law? Nice spin and as usual the media buys it. Shame on them. Morons.