Item: On July 28, Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr announced that one of his star witnesses, David Hale, was cleared of accepting cash and other favors from right-wing enemies of President Clinton.
Starrs Double Standard on Secrets
In a press release, Starr stated that former Justice Department official Michael Shaheen had conducted an investigation into eyewitness accounts of the payoffs and had concluded that "many of the allegations, suggestions and insinuations regarding the tendering and receipt of things of value were shown to be unsubstantiated or, in some cases, untrue."
Starrs press release noted that Shaheen's inquiry had contacted more than 160 people and reviewed a wide range of financial records.
But Starr offered no details from Shaheen's 168-page report, nothing to explain how the eyewitness accounts had been debunked or why Shaheen had reached the conclusion he did. Except for the conclusion, the contents of the report remained secret.
Presumably, the reason for withholding the 168 pages was that some of the information came from secret grand-jury testimony, an odd concern for Starr who handed over to Congress volumes of grand-jury and other raw investigative material about President Clinton's sex life.
Given that history, one might have expected the national press corps to object to this new assertion of secrecy. But no major news outlet did.
Indeed, The Washington Post went one better. Based only on the one paragraph that was released, a Post editorial asserted that the Hale findings disproved "the mythical vast right-wing conspiracy" and showed that "Mr. Starr was not reckless in relying on Mr. Hale." The newspaper then called on "Mr. Starr's critics" to "admit they were wrong." [WP, July 30, 1999]
But there are questions that arise from the conduct of the Shaheen investigation and from the secrecy.
First, theres Shaheens independence, since he was picked for the job by Starr. Shaheen also is a controversial figure who has come under criticism for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which he long headed.
In 1994, an investigation by In These Times concluded that Shaheen's OPR was implicated in "covering up the wrongdoing of the Reagan and Bush administrations and exploiting its investigative powers to smear potential enemies." [ITT, May 2, 1994]
Second, Hale's credibility was an important battleground in the Clinton impeachment wars. In 1998, Hale stood at the center of Starr's efforts to prove that Clinton committed perjury when he denied knowing about an illegal $300,000 loan that Hale had arranged for Clinton's Whitewater business partner, Susan McDougal.
Although Hale was a convicted con man trading his testimony for a lenient jail sentence, he was expected to figure prominently in Starr's impeachment referrals to Congress.
But the Whitewater referral was derailed when two eyewitnesses described Hale's close relationship with conservative activists who were part of the American Spectator's $1.8 million "Arkansas Project," financed by right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife. [For details, see iF Magazine, May-June 1998.]
Mission: The withholding of important records that bear on the guilt or innocence of President Clinton should not be tolerated.
Only with the fullest possible disclosure can the American people assess the quality of Shaheen's inquiry and the credibility of a witness who has implicated the president of the United States in a felony fraud case.
Plus, the Shaheen report could clarify whether Starr's impeachment drive was a political assault on a Democratic president or a legitimate investigation. These are not minor questions.
Demands should be directed to Starr's office and the Justice Department to seek the immediate release of the 168-page report, which is currently in the hands of a special judicial panel.
While grand-jury testimony can be kept secret, much of the report is likely based on FBI interviews and other investigative summaries that are not governed by those secrecy rules.
Complaints also should be sent to The Washington Post for failing to ascertain the facts before attacking critics of Starr's operation.
Contact Attorney General Janet Reno at U.S. Department of Justice, 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20530. Phone: (202) 514-2001.
Contact the Office of the Independent Counsel at 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20004. Phone: (202) 514-8688. Fax: (202) 514-8802.
Contact the Ombudsman at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Phone: (202) 334-6000.