Before joining Congress, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) was the scourge of military contractors, filing dozens of whistleblower lawsuits against companies who defrauded the government in connection with their work in Iraq. In the past, the freshman lawmaker, who's known for his pugilistic style and no-holds barred remarks, has blasted the firms working on the payroll of the US government overseas: "We're not going to let the defense contractors use our money to bribe our government and take it over," he once said. And he has singled out Blackwater (now known as Xe) for special criticism: "We can't let, basically, Blackwater take over the entire government here. We have to draw the line somewhere."
But did Blackwater contractors come to his rescue last week, when Grayson was traveling in Niger and a military coup erupted? It certainly seems that way, considering the prepared testimony of Xe executive vice president Fred Roitz, who will testify later today in connection with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Blackwater subsidiary Paravant. In his remarks, he stated: "Xe Services, through its subsidiary Presidential Airways, provides aviation support and medevac services to Defense Department personnel in Africa. Just last week, our personnel evacuated a congressman from Niger during civil unrest."
The description certainly seems to fit the dicey circumstances Grayson found himself in last week. As CNN reported:
Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, narrowly escaped harm earlier this week after being caught up in a military coup in the African country of Niger.
Grayson's press secretary, Todd Jurkowski, confirmed to CNN that Grayson was close to the action. "He heard the gunshots. They were literally in the building next door."
The outspoken congressman was in Niger as part of a congressional delegation focused on science, technology and humanitarian relief, according to Jurkowski. When the situation began to unravel, Grayson was taken to the residence of the United States Ambassador to Niger, where he was placed under armed protection.
Roitz offered his remarks in defense of Xe's personnel, who he described as "good corporate citizens," who "support numerous charitable and civic organizations in the region, including the Special Olympics, the USO, the Boy Scouts, and local nonprofit food service organizations."
In his prepared statement, Roitz said that Xe was a changed company following the departure of a series of high-level Blackwater employees and installation of a new management team. "Unfortunately, there were times when the first priority of the former leadership of the company was supporting those missions, even at the expense of complying administrative and regulatory requirements," Roitz said, referring to the firm's work in Iraq and Afghanistan. "That will not happen under the company's new leadership team, which emphasizes core values of honesty, integrity, reliability, and accountability." He also said the company is "in many significant ways, a new company when compared to the old Blackwater."
As for Grayson, if he was in fact saved by Blackwater, I wonder whether the experience has given him a newfound respect for the work of contractors. I have a call in to Grayson's spokesman. I'll update this post when I hear back.
UPDATE: Todd Jurkowsk, Rep. Grayson's spokesman, says the congressman's office is still trying to confirm whether he was in fact evacced by Presidential Airways. "The flight was arranged through the State Department," Jukowski says. "The Congressman did not know, and frankly did not care, who owned the plane.” On the subject of contractors, Jurkowski added, "The Congressman does not deny that there is admirable work being done by some employees of private contractors. However, he stands by his criticism of companies who have been found to cheat the American people, defraud our government, and unnecessarily risk the lives of members of our military, all in the name of making a profit."
UPDATE 2: Case closed.