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Franken faults Coleman for lack of oversight

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

DFL senate candidate Al Franken maintained a drumbeat of criticism against his GOP opponent, Sen. Norm Coleman, taking Coleman to task for failing to initiate a single hearing or investigation into Iraqi war profiteering as chairman of a powerful investigative subcommittee, even as billions of dollars were being squandered.

"The truth is that Norm Coleman was the Senate’s oversight czar, and he did nothing while at least $15 billion in taxpayer money went missing," said Franken at the Rochester Public Library, one of three campaign stops that included Duluth and St. Paul.

A Coleman spokesman called the Franken charges "fundamentally untrue," saying Coleman worked across the aisle to create a special investigator for Iraqi reconstruction. That office went on to conduct 216 audits, found $58 million in savings and redirected $40 million in funds to be used more efficiently. Its investigations have led to 14 indictments and arrests, the campaign said.

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The campaign stop was Franken’s fourth in Rochester during the last two weeks. He delivered his remarks as polls have shown a tightening race with five weeks left until the general election. The Rasmussen Report also released a poll on the Minnesota U.S. Senate race Monday, showing the race between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken virtually tied with Coleman at 48 percent and Franken at 47 percent, a statistically insignificant difference.

Franken said Coleman’s failure to hold a single hearing contributed to a culture of laxity in which greedy contractors overcharged taxpayers for services or committed outright fraud; no-bid contracts to favored companies lasted for years; and billions of dollars meant to put Iraqis to work and maintain civil society "just disappeared."

Coleman’s spokesman, Luke Friedrich said when some members in Congress tried to eliminate the office, Coleman was one of four senators to introduce legislation ensuring its continuance, a Coleman spokesman said.

"The reality is, Norm is one of the few senators who led the efforts to ensure Iraq oversight was being done," Friedrich said.

Franken signaled early on in his campaign that he intended to make Coleman’s role as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations a major campaign issue. When he first appeared in Rochester to announce his candidacy last year, he described Coleman’s decision not to hold a single hearing as a dereliction for which he intended to hold Coleman to account.

The Coleman camp, however, said that Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was one of a half dozen entities with the staff and resources to conduct oversight of Iraq. They included the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the USAID Inspector General and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Friedrich said the overlapping layers of oversight provided by those agencies is the reason Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who is now PSI chairman, hasn’t held any hearings since Democrats took control of the Senate.

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