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Top Texas official out over ‘unacceptable’ Iraq consulting

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The former watchdog over U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq has been forced out of a powerful Texas job after he moonlighted as a consultant for the Iraqi government.

Stuart Bowen was asked to resign as inspector general of the sprawling Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said John Wittman, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Bowen’s ouster came after Texas Monthly discovered his consulting work.

“This was a serious and unacceptable lapse in judgment by Mr. Bowen,” Wittman said Thursday.

Documents show that Bowen was introduced to Trump administration officials in recent months as a senior adviser to a Washington law firm representing the Iraq government. He previously was special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But in 2015, Abbott hired him to bolster accountability and oversight to the state’s $40 billion health agency, which at the time was reeling from a contracting scandal.

In a statement, Bowen said he never worked for the Iraq government and consulted with an ethics adviser at Texas’ health agency before taking the job. He said he had been approached in October to help with an introduction to the governor of Iraq’s central bank and was later asked to advise the firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck on anti-corruption efforts in the country.

The firm in February wrote letters, some of which mention Bowen, to Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others asking for meetings with Iraqi officials. The letters came after Trump issued an executive order on immigration barring refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iraq, from entering the U.S. Bowen said his work did not concern the ban.

“I have never worked for Iraq and was not involved in any law firm activities regarding the travel ban issue,” Bowen said.

State officials on Thursday released a draft contract found on Bowen’s agency email account from the law firm. The unsigned copy called for Bowen to start in January and be paid $300 an hour “to further Government of Iraq work” earned by the firm.

The contract said that Bowen would not perform work that would require him to register with the federal government as a foreign agent. Iraq was later dropped from the list of banned countries under a revised order from Trump, but that one, too, was blocked by a federal court.

Bowen said he implanted reforms that stabilized Texas’ health agency in fighting fraud and waste. A successor was not immediately named.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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