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Rumsfeld Stands By Army Chief

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld expressed support Tuesday for embattled Army Secretary Thomas White and said White had personally assured him he had no involvement in congressional contacts by his staff that were "way in the dickens out of line."

At issue was who in the Army initiated contacts with members of Congress last week that Rumsfeld interpreted as disloyal efforts to undermine his push to cancel the $11 billion Crusader artillery system.

"I talked to the secretary, and he had no knowledge or awareness" of documents faxed to members of Congress last week shortly after White was informed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that Crusader would be canceled.

Rumsfeld was asked at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday whether he remained confident in White's ability to carry out his duties.

"Yes, I do," he said. "I certainly have confidence in Secretary White."

Rumsfeld was asked his view of the argument advanced to members of Congress by Army officials that canceling the Crusader would rob the Army of needed battlefield protection and cost U.S. lives in combat.

"Someone with an overactive thyroid seemed to get his hands and his mouth ahead of his brain, and that happens in life. It certainly was not Secretary White, if that's what you're wondering," he said.

Rumsfeld dismissed speculation that White was about to be fired.

"There is no question but that the Army — not the Army, but some individuals in the Army — were way in the dickens out of line," he said. "It was not Secretary White, and he has advised me to that effect."

On Monday, officials close to both Rumsfeld and White, speaking on condition of anonymity, said White could be forced out, although White told aides he did not intend to resign.

The Army's chief investigator was due to report to Wolfowitz Tuesday on the circumstances under which Army officials contacted members of Congress after Wolfowitz told White that Crusader would be canceled.

The allegation is that Army officials were disloyal to Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld by encouraging members of Congress to fight for Crusader, an advanced artillery system due to be fielded in 2008.

There is no evidence White knew in advance that lower-level officials responsible for liaison with Congress contacted certain members to push the Army's argument for saving Crusader, officials said Monday.

Rumsfeld aides have implied that even if White had no direct hand in making the contacts with Congress he, as the Army's top civilian official, was indirectly responsible. White told aides Monday morning that resigning was not an option, at least not before Wolfowitz got the investigation report.

In White's view, Crusader is indispensable to protecting soldiers in close combat. Aides said he gave no indication he intended to soften his stance. Rumsfeld appeared equally determined to kill Crusader, although he faces a tough battle in Congress, where there is considerable support for Crusader.

Wolfowitz informed White last Tuesday that Crusader would be canceled and that the Army should produce a report within 30 days spelling out options for spending the $475 million earmarked for Crusader in President Bush's proposed 2003 defense budget on alternative technologies.

"Some time after" Wolfowitz did that, Army officials sent faxes and "talking points" to congressional offices that undermined Rumsfeld's position, Rumsfeld spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Friday.

"When a decision has been reached, people are expected to support it," she added, referring to Army leaders.

White has declined to comment publicly.

For weeks White has been under political pressure as a result of contacts with Enron Corp. officials during the company's collapse last year. White had headed Enron Energy Services, a subsidiary, before he became Army secretary. White is a retired general and a decorated Vietnam veteran.

White also is under investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general for his handling of personal business matters on trips involving Army jets.

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