DFL U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken flew around the state Monday to criticize Republican Sen. Norm Coleman for something he didn't do -- investigate profiteering in the Iraq war.

"Norm Coleman was the Senate's oversight czar, and he did nothing while at least $15 billion in taxpayer money went missing," Franken said at a news conference at the State Capitol, before leaving to spread the same message in Duluth and Rochester.

From 2003 to 2007, Coleman was chairman of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI). Coleman led several probes as chairman, including music pirating on the Internet, Pentagon travel abuses and abuses in the United Nations' oil-for-food program.

But Franken said Coleman held no hearings on waste and fraud during the war at "the bidding of the White House."

Coleman "let our country down. We paid a steep price. Now it falls to the people of Minnesota to hold him accountable," Franken said.

Coleman campaign officials responded that the PSI has uncovered more than $70 billion in payroll tax abuses, Medicare fraud and unpaid contractor taxes since Coleman joined the committee.

"Al Franken would rather have him doing things that were being done by other committees ... that were better equipped to handle this," said campaign spokesman Luke Friedrich.

Five debates scheduled

Franken, Coleman and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley will meet for their first fall debate in two weeks, followed by four more before the Nov. 4 election.

At least two of the debates will be broadcast on TV, and another will be carried on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR).

The first debate will be held Oct. 5, in Rochester, followed by one in the Twin Cities on Oct. 11 and one in Duluth on Oct. 16. All three will be sponsored by Debate Minnesota, a multi-partisan organization, with joint sponsorship by KARE-TV for the second debate.

The fourth debate, on Oct. 24, will be telecast on Twin Cities Public Television as part of the "Almanac" program. The final debate, on Nov. 2, will be broadcast from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul by MPR.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455