Senate Democrats

Lawmakers Call On Bush To Put New Armstrong Williams Questions To Rest

Washington, DC – In light of the President’s response to Education Secretary Rod Paige’s question raising comments yesterday, United States Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) today called on President Bush to to take responsibility for the Armstrong Williams matter and put to rest the serious questions that he has failed to publicly address such as whether he will seek to recover the improperly spent funds from Mr. Williams

In a letter sent to the President, the Senators note that Paige’s statement contained major inaccuracies about the contract between the Bush administration and Ketchum, Inc. and generated serious concerns about whether the Department of Education has the ability to answer basic questions about the matter. The letter urges the president to take full responsibility for his administration’s actions and address the very serious concerns the contract raises.

They write, “Secretary Paige’s explanation raises more questions than it answers, and it is incumbent upon you to put this matter to rest. Because this case involves a serious violation of a law designed to protect taxpayer funds, namely the prohibition on the use of Federal funds for “publicity and propaganda” included annually in Federal appropriations laws, we believe it is time for the White House to address this matter directly.”

The full text of their letter is attached and below.

January 13, 2005

Honorable George W. Bush
President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

We were disturbed to read the statement released by Education Secretary Paige late yesterday regarding the Administration’s $240,000 payment to journalist Armstrong Williams. The statement contains major inaccuracies about the contract between your Administration and Ketchum, Inc., which raises the question of whether the Department if Education has the ability to answer basic questions about the arrangement with Mr. Williams.

In his statement yesterday, Secretary Paige said:

“The funds for the Graham Williams Group’s services went exclusively toward the production and airtime of advertisements in which I described the law and encouraged viewers and listeners to call the Department’s toll-free information line. The funds covered those costs alone and nothing more.”

However, Secretary Paige’s statement directly contradicts the plain language of the contract between your Administration and Ketchum, Inc. On page 5 of the Modification of Contract for Work Request 16 (Minority Outreach Campaign) of Contract ED-03-PO-1725, it states:

“Ketchum shall arrange for Mr. Williams to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts.”

On the same page it also states:

“Secretary Paige and other Department officials shall have the option of appearing from time to time as studio guests to discuss NCLB and other important education reform issues.”

Further down the page, it states:

“Mr. Williams shall utilize his long term working relationship with America’s Black Forum, where he appears as a guest commentator, to encourage the producers to periodically address the No Child Left Behind Act (67 million viewers; reach 87% of urban market).”

Secretary Paige’s explanation raises more questions than it answers, and it is incumbent upon you to put this matter to rest. Because this case involves a serious violation of a law designed to protect taxpayer funds, namely the prohibition on the use of Federal funds for “publicity and propaganda” included annually in Federal appropriations laws, we believe it is time for the White House to address this matter directly.

Sincerely,

FRANK R. LAUTENBERG

HARRY REID

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