WASHINGTON -- The head of Vice President Dick Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, is asking employees to contact newspapers and lawmakers to counter criticism of the company's no-bid contract in Iraq.
In an Oct. 17 memo entitled "Defending Our Company," Halliburton's president, Dave Lesar, said he was offended by the criticism but cautioned employees to be positive in their letters.
"We should avoid stooping to our critics' level of dialogue, no matter how tempting that may be," he wrote. He said the Democratic critics are "distorting our efforts" to restore Iraq's oil industry and provide other services to the U.S. military in Iraq.
Several congressional Democrats have leveled criticism against the Houston-based Halliburton, which Cheney left when he ran for office in 2000. Cheney still receives deferred payments for services previously performed, but his office says he severed his ties with the company and had no role in the company's contracts.
Democrats in the House and Senate have questioned whether Halliburton's oil industry contract resulted from favoritism to Cheney, since there were no competitive bids.
Halliburton's KBR subsidiary has been paid $1.59 billion so far for the oil industry contract with the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps said it would soon award two replacement contracts through competitive bidding.
The Lesar memo was obtained by operators of an Internet site, Misleader.org, which publishes what it calls "misrepresentations, distortions and downright misleading statements by President Bush and the Bush administration." An official of the site said it was provided to a subscriber by a relative employed by Halliburton.
Lesar, Halliburton's president, CEO and chairman, said: "Now I'm asking you to help by writing a letter to the editor of your newspaper." He listed "some facts that you can use to help deliver your letter."
He also told workers "it would be helpful to write to your representatives in Washington, D.C., asking them to support fairness and accuracy."
Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said: "We often encourage employees to share their voice and opinions on matters that they feel are important. As many companies do, we encourage employees to write to their respective representatives in Washington.
"Many of our employees have expressed appreciation for this effort, so that they have an active voice in support of the company."
Among Lesar's suggestions for the letters to newspapers:
--"Halliburton makes our troops more comfortable in a difficult environment by bringing shelter, supplies, clean uniforms and mail from home."
--"Halliburton is proud to offer its global resources at this critical time in the Middle East."
--"Halliburton has successfully helped to restore needed services in Iraq that will help bring some sense of normalcy for those who have suffered losses."
The e-mail also included suggestions for making the letter effective, telling employees to "write from the heart and use your own words and, where possible, use firsthand stories."
"It's OK to show your pride in your work and your co-workers, and to mention your own experience with Halliburton," Lesar said.
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