Vice President Dick Cheney was a guest on NBC's Meet the Press last September when host Tim Russert brought up Halliburton. Citing the company's role in rebuilding Iraq as well as Cheney's prior service as Halliburton's CEO, Russert asked, "Were you involved in any way in the awarding of those contracts?" Cheney's reply: "Of course not, Tim ... And as Vice President, I have absolutely no influence of, involvement of, knowledge of in any way, shape or form of contracts led by the [Army] Corps of Engineers or anybody else in the Federal Government."
Cheney's relationship with Halliburton has been nothing but trouble since he left the company in 2000. Both he and the company say they have no ongoing connections. But TIME has obtained an internal Pentagon e-mail sent by an Army Corps of Engineers official--whose name was blacked out by the Pentagon--that raises questions about Cheney's arm's-length policy toward his old employer. Dated March 5, 2003, the email says "action" on a multibillion-dollar Halliburton contract was "coordinated" with Cheney's office. The email says Douglas Feith, a high-ranking Pentagon hawk, got the "authority to execute RIO," or Restore Iraqi Oil, from his boss, who is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. RIO is one of several large contracts the U.S. awarded to Halliburton last year.
The e-mail says Feith approved arrangements for the contract "contingent on informing WH [White House] tomorrow. We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated w VP's [Vice President's] office." Three days later, the Army Corps of Engineers gave Halliburton the contract, without seeking other bids. TIME located the e-mail among documents provided by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group.
Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems says the Vice President "has played no role whatsoever in government-contract decisions involving Halliburton" since 2000. A Pentagon spokesman says the e-mail means merely that "in anticipation of controversy over the award of a sole-source contract to Halliburton, we wanted to give the Vice President's staff a heads-up."
Cheney is linked to his old firm in at least one other way. His recently filed 2003 financial-disclosure form reveals that Halliburton last year invoked an insurance policy to indemnify Cheney for what could be steep legal bills "arising from his service" at the company. Past and present Halliburton execs face an array of potentially costly litigation, including multibillion-dollar asbestos claims.
--By Timothy J. Burger and Adam Zagorin