White House Fingerprints on LightSquared Scandal

Bob Beauprez
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Posted: Sep 23, 2011 12:01 AM

The newest Obama Administration scandal-de-jour, LightSquared, has quickly escalated to involve potentially "guided" testimony to two separate Congressional Committees.  Additionally, two witnesses have confirmed that the White House pressured them to alter testimony in favor of LightSquared, a Virginia broadband provider whose executives also made very large Democrat Party campaign contributions. 

Further, entire portions of the supposedly independent opinion submitted to a Congressional Oversight Committee regarding LightSquared from four separate government agencies contained "identical language in their written testimony" – a truly remarkable coincidence.

The scandal erupted last week on Capitol Hill when Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) revealed that General William Shelton, Commander of the Air Force Space Command Center in Colorado Springs, told the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee that the White House tried to convince Shelton to alter his testimony to favor LightSquared's FCC application to establish a national wireless communications network.  Rep. Turner is Chairman of the Sub-Committee.

A second witness has now come forward, as well.  Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing told The Daily Beast, that the White House pushed him to alter his testimony to say that "the government's concerns about the project by the firm LightSquared could be resolved in 90 days."  That timetable, Russo understood, would be favorable to the company's FCC approval objectives.  But, Russo disagreed, believing testing would take at least six months, so he rejected the White House pressure - he prefers to call it "guidance."  General Shelton was also "guided" to make the same reference to a mere 90 days testing period.

The growing LightSquared scandal shares a common denominator with the on-going investigations involving Solyndra – the failed California solar energy company favored with a $535 million loan from the Department of Energy – in addition to the questionable White House involvement.  In both cases major company principals were also large Democrat Party donors who got access to the White House brass. 

Philip Falcone, LightSquared's principle investor, and his wife each donated $30,400 to the Democratic Senate Committee a week after meeting with senior White House staff.  Falcone, a big money wheeler-dealer "who earned billions betting against the subprime mortgage market" is already under "tremendous scrutiny" in New York and Washington, according to The New York Times.  CEO Sanjiv Ahuja donated $30,400 to the Democratic National Committee on the same day that two other LightSquared employees contacted the White House for meetings with senior officials. 

Just as with the Solyndra scandal, questions are flying around Capitol Hill about whether these are just remarkable coincidences, or evidence of the pay-to-play politics in force at the White House.

The LightSquared application received conditional approval from the Federal Communications Commission in 2004, but concern about GPS interference has blocked the final go-ahead for seven years.   Company executives and the White House contend that satisfying remaining questions is a minor, quick-fix issue and clearly are trying to get concurrence from Congress by suggesting concerns could be resolved with just a 90 day test period.

But a former FCC commissioner says any reference to a testing period, short or long, is highly irregular.  According to Harold Furchtgott-Roth, a Clinton nominee to the FCC serving from 1997-2001, "Sometimes they (these types of tests) go on for long periods of time.  To pick a number and say the tests have to end by a certain date is not consistent with commission precedent."  He went on to state what seems obvious that, "you don't know what you will find when you do the test; you can't predetermine that you will absolutely be finished after 90 days." 

General Shelton and Director Russo apparently had the same reservations, and thus rejected the "guidance" from the White House. 

The bandwidth spectrum proposed to be used by LightSquared is very close to that of the GPS system critical to government agencies, private industry, and citizens.  Military and private industry experts have raised serious concerns for years that the "tens of thousands of ground stations" that LightSquared would install could "drown out the GPS signal."  Instead of softening his testimony as requested by the White House, Gen. Shelton testified that in his opinion the LightSquared network "would cause significant disruptions to GPS."

The White House's fingerprints on the LightSquared issue extend beyond a significant sentence or two revision suggested to Shelton and Russo, which to their credit both men rejected.  Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), Chairman of the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, also raised a red flag after review of written testimony to his Sub-Committee uncovered a remarkable irregularity. 

In a statement released to A Line of Sight and The Daily Beast, who first broke the LightSquared scandal, Rep. Broun said, "I was troubled to note that at the Science, Space and Technology Committee's recent hearing on the company's potential interference to GPS, four of the five Administration witnesses – National Coordination Office; DOT; NOAA; and NASA – had identical language in their written testimony reflecting the administration's view of the LightSquared project.  The language diminished the otherwise blunt assessments the witnesses articulated during the hearing when pressed by committee members."  

On September 20, 2011 separate letters were sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requesting documents related to the Administration's involvement with LightSquared.  The letters were signed by Science and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (TX), James Sensenbrenner (WI), Rep. Broun and four other committee members.  The letters document the apparent attempts to "Tamper with Testimony" and "Muzzling Officials" for possible political objectives.  "Sugarcoating testimony over critical matters that include the lives of Americans is irresponsible, and inevitably raises questions about the Administration's priorities," wrote the lawmakers. 

The letters express frustration that earlier requests by the Committee for LightSquared related documents from DHS, NOAA, NIST, and the Commerce Department have been ignored.  The lawmakers also cited the stonewalling by the FCC of Senator Charles Grassley's request for LightSquared documents made last April, and the refusal of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to testify at a Senate hearing.   

Solyndra has prompted five separate high level investigations, and Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Government and Oversight Committee has now announced plans to also investigate the growing newest White House scandal around LightSquared. 

Why is the White House so compelled to soften the testimony of experts in the field, particularly the four-star Commander of the Air Space Command?  Why are numerous federal agencies controlled by the White House refusing to comply with Congressional requests for information?   Why would the White House be willing to compromise the GPS system that is critical to our military, law enforcement, and the lives of virtually every American citizen?

John Kass, columnist for The Chicago Tribune in Barack Obama's hometown, knows exactly what these scandals are all about; it is "the Chicago Way" he says in a new scathing, satirical, condemning column.  "Did you really believe it when the White House mouthpieces – who are also Chicago City Hall mouthpieces – promised they were bringing a new kind of politics to Washington?"  Kass writes.  Something smells really bad, Kass says, "And those of us from Chicago know exactly what it smells like.  And it doesn't smell fresh and green." 

See also New Day, A New White House Scandal: First Solyndra, Now LightSquared