Mar 22, 2012 6:13 AM by AP
HELENA, Mont. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg is claiming in mail to constituents that the Obama administration's New START treaty intends to strip Malmstrom Air Force Base of its entire contingent of nuclear missiles.
Rehberg is locked in a big U.S. Senate battle with incumbent Democrat Jon Tester. The Republican has been hammering the administration, and Tester, for an arms reduction treaty he argues is bad for national security.
A mailer Rehberg recently sent to Montanans says "The Obama START Treaty seeks to eliminate 150 missiles at Malmstrom." It says the deal puts the base at risk.
That contradicts public statements from Air Force leaders who have said each base could lose 10 intercontinental ballistic missiles each from Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota as a result of the new arms control treaty with Russia.
That's what the commander of the Air Force Global Strike Command said last year on a tour of bases that handle ICBMs and nuclear-ready bombers, a statement that backed other comments from Defense Department officials.
A Rehberg spokesman didn't disclose who told the congressman that the true intent is to gut Malmstrom, or whether they are sources inside the administration or how close to the decision they could be.
"While it's nice that Administration officials and Obama apologists in the Senate have promised Malmstrom's mission is safe, actions speak louder than words," spokesman Jed Link said. "Denny has been told on multiple occasions by officials in both Washington and Montana that Malmstrom's mission is at risk, and he has no reason to doubt those warnings."
Link said that the administration is overdue on formally releasing specific START Treaty plans. Until then, "the responsible thing to do is to fight as if Malmstrom's mission is on the chopping block, because, in fact, it very well may be," Link said.
The congressman has said the administration could cut the nuclear force up to 80 percent, and believes that likely until it formally makes its final plans public.
Tester has argued that the treaty strengthens national security and has the backing of military commanders.
Tester's campaign alleged that Rehberg is inflating the figure intentionally, and said the congressman does not understand the benefits of the treaty.
"Congressman Rehberg is showing his ignorance about our security while using taxpayer-funded mail to lie to Montanans in an effort to boost his political campaign," said Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy.