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Democrats want Cheney-Halliburton probe

Republicans dismiss questions about contract

Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive officer of Halliburton before he became George Bush's running mate.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Democratic senator Tuesday called for a congressional investigation into whether Vice President Dick Cheney had a role in awarding a no-bid contract in Iraq to his old company, the oil-services giant Halliburton.

"It's a legitimate question," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It raises the real question, can the American people trust their government to do the right thing? We have very real rules here."

Cheney's office has said repeatedly that the vice president has no role in government contracting and has severed all financial ties with the Texas-based Halliburton.

Cheney was chief executive officer of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000, when he became George Bush's running mate.

Time magazine raised the issue again this week, citing a March 5, 2003, e-mail from an Army Corps of Engineers official to another Pentagon employee.

The e-mail -- first obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act -- stated that Pentagon official Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, approved the arrangement to award a non-competitive contract to Halliburton.

It reported the contract was "contingent on informing WH [White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w(ith) VP's office."

John White, a Pentagon appointee in the Clinton and Carter administrations, said the e-mail suggests an "unprecedented" level of involvement by senior Pentagon officials in the awarding of contracts.

"I've never seen of anything like this -- never heard of anything like this," White told reporters in a conference call with Leahy. "I think the vice president's office has a lot of questions to answer, as does the Pentagon."

But a senior administration official told CNN the e-mail is a typical "heads-up" memo from one government agency to another that "a decision has been made," and disputed suggestions that the e-mail was evidence of Cheney's involvement in the matter.

With both houses of Congress controlled by President Bush's fellow Republicans, the prospect of any Cheney-Halliburton hearings appears unlikely.

"For me, not having seen any of the accusations or read Time magazine today, it would be premature for me to say we need hearings on it," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said Tuesday.

Leahy, D-Vermont, faulted Republicans for not wanting to examine the issue.

"This is the same Congress that during the Clinton administration would have five new investigations started by midday Monday, and just add to them all week long," Leahy said. "Now they won't hold hearings, no matter what it is -- if you have cost overruns or anything else -- they just refuse to hold hearings, but of course they should."

Halliburton's involvement in the Iraq reconstruction effort has been controversial since it won a multi-billion no-bid contract in 2003. The U.S. Defense Department is investigating whether Halliburton overcharged for the fuel delivered to Iraqi civilians, and its Kellogg, Brown and Root subsidiary agreed to refund $27 million for potential overbillings at five dining halls in Iraq and Kuwait.

"This is a politicizing of Halliburton, which is a shame," said Mary Matalin, a former Cheney aide now working as a senior Bush-Cheney campaign adviser.

"Halliburton itself has lost close to three dozen workers over there in Iraq," Matalin told NBC's Today show. "I mean, just let it go."

CNN's Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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